10 / May / 2021

CDN evolution: what's next?

CDNs have always been a necessity in the world of streaming video. Though some streaming providers, like Netflix, Apple, and Amazon, built their own delivery infrastructures, the majority of streaming providers utilize a combination of CDNs to ensure that their content is delivered in the best possible way to viewers. It’s a strategic decision.

CDN evolution: what's next?

Netflix deployed its own CDN technologies into carrier networks as streaming began to surge, which gave it the opportunity to fine-tune and tweak them as streaming grew. But providers like Disney+, Peacock, and HBO Max sank into a cresting wave. Deploying their own CDN technologies instead of contracting commercial providers appeared to be a hard and awfully expensive task. 

It’s safe to say that without CDN technologies, like reverse proxies and cache hierarchies, streaming would be much different today. The large commercial CDNs have massive networks and ensure that popular content is cached much closer to the viewer. These networks and those deployed by companies like Netflix ensure that streaming scale, quality, and availability are on the high level.

But streaming is still only a fraction of total video watched. What happens when it's the de facto method for delivering video content? Will the existing CDN approaches be enough to handle the next phase of streaming growth? 

Sure, there is a variety of ways to architect a CDN. Some, like Akamai’s, utilize algorithms to route around internet congestion. Others, like Limelight Networks', use a lease-wavelength private network. And other companies approach content delivery in their own unique way as well: Fastly, Amazon, Verizon, CenturyLink, StackPath, etc. 

Moreover, we can see combinations of approaches like CenturyLink's acquisition of Streamroot, a peer-to-peer CDN. 

CDN technologies are evolving, though. It's not just about more infrastructure; it's about using infrastructure differently. But it's also not the only way that the CDN is evolving to meet future streaming demands. As the edge continues to grow in importance to streaming, CDNs will naturally make use of resources that continue to extend closer to the end user in the cloud, mist, and fog. 

It will be about massive, parallel, distributed delivery that includes not only commodity and containerized systems, but most likely everything from network-attached storage in the home to the devices we have in our hands. To meet the scalability, resiliency, and quality expectations viewers have for streaming, CDNs will have to break out of the traditional architectural model to embrace something that provides delivery on a smaller and more efficient scale. 

The CDN is the core of streaming, of the internet video experience. What the future of the CDN will be is anyone's guess, but one thing is for certain: its evolution will be something to watch.