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An ISP's Edge in the CDN Game?
Edgeware and MediaMelon Attempt to define next-generation CDN with a "federated" approach to content delivery
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We've written on this topic before: solutions that allow an internet service provider (ISP) or cable operator (MSO)-or even a traditional telecom player-to rapidly introduce value-added content delivery network (CDN) services.

Previous articles have dealt with two different approaches. The first is the use of media servers such as Wowza's Media Server 2, which provides protocol (wrapper) conversion from a generic H.264 stream, allowing playback of the same stream on multiple players. The second is covered by products such as VideoExchange (VDO-X) that is licensed by Jet Stream BV, a Netherlands-based company to "anyone with an IP network" that wants to set up their own CDN. Both solutions use white-box or generic servers and then populate the solution with the appropriate media server software.

A third model is being added to the mix in a joint solution championed by MediaMelon, Inc., and Edgeware AB.

Edgeware's video appliances sit-as the name implies-at the edge of the network. The company has been a known quantity in the industry for some time, but MediaMelon is somewhat new, calling itself a "provider of a cloud-based service for managing media delivery across multiple servers and networks" through its two product/services: MediaMelonDirect and MediaCloud. The former targets media companies who want to send their content out to a variety of CDNs, while MediaCloud offers a hosted solution for ISPs, MSOs and telecoms that want to start their own CDN.

After the two companies made the announcement that their joint solution-an integration of Edgeware's Web TV servers with the MediaCloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution will be geared towards telecoms, ISPs, MSOs and data centers, I asked how the joint hosted service and specialized appliance model might work.

The first question centered on Edgeware's software technologies. When asked whether Edgeware's software technologies will be overridden by MediaMelon's technologies, since both approach the core-edge scenario a bit differently, both companies said yes, and expanded a bit upon the answer.

"For this joint solution, Edgeware disables its own asset propagation system which uses FTP or HTTP caching," said Jon Haley, Edgeware's VP of business development for WebTV and over-the-top (OTT). "We have successfully provided walled-garden UDP delivery of IPTV with our first-generation appliance, then moved to TCP delivery for our second-generation WebTV product, but we see the MediaMelon deterministic algorithms as a next step in heightening penetration of our WebTV product line."

"The MediaCloud service pushes and manages content at the appropriate Edgeware nodes," added Kumar Subramanian, founder and CEO of Media Melon, "and then tracks performance for each of those nodes for every view of the content. This ‘viewer experience' data is then used to optimize delivery for subsequent requests for that content from the same region or ISP."

Secondly, bearing in mind the previous articles which noted that the concept of a generic white box with appropriate media server software was good news for ISPs, MSOs, and telecoms looking to move into CDN offerings, I asked both companies what the expected reaction will be from traditional CDNs or even the more specialized online video platforms (OVPs).

"Ad-funded OTT services don't make money (YouTube being an example)," said Edgeware's Haley, "and consumers are not prepared to pay premium rates for subscription OTT services."

"The issue, as we see it, is unreliable quality," he added. "In order for CDNs to deliver consistent DVD/Blu-ray and broadcast quality video over the internet, they have to collaborate with the other middle- and last-mile delivery networks, such as telecoms, MSOs, and ISPs, so the CDN optimizes up to the peering point with these networks, reducing transit and the number of hops but the local operator then has to deal with the saturation problem."

A Federated Approach
"We think the joint MediaMelon/Edgeware solution will allow the federation of MSO/ISP content delivery solutions with existing CDNs where appropriate," said MediaMelon's Subramanian. "MSOs and ISPs are in a unique position to deliver a better user experience, but the face the opposite problem of a CDN, in that they are limited by their network footprint."

This joint approach, according to both companies, is key to integrating robust, high-quality last mile delivery combined with the ‘off network' delivery of the boxes at the edge.

"The tension between the access lines and the core network," added Haley, "means that CDNs need to either persuade the local operators to let them put their caching servers at the edge of these core networks or they need to federate with the operator's own, local CDN. We think the latter is the next generation model."

MediaMelon's CEO provided a brief overview of the delivery model, including the federated challenge.

"Our multi-source delivery and ‘user experience' routing manages content from the most appropriate server, in this case an Edgeware server," said Subramanian, "based on actual performance from each user. We gather client-side information and cross-reference that to various delivery sources to choose how to route content within the time the media is being delivered. This means the first part of the video may be played from one caching box on one network, while a later part of the same video file will be played from a completely different caching box or network. Unlike older CDN models that serve an entire file from a single location, we leverages chunks of streams from a variety of locations using this real-time performance."

"One of the bigger challenges, though, is brought about by original CDN approach," Subramanian continued, "in which pools of capacity are over-provisioned to attempt to deliver media content globally, rather than use a federated approach. We think scalability will come from a federated model, giving service providers the opportunity to instantly broader their reach."

"Think about how British Telecom (BT) could be perceived as or strive to be the best CDN in the UK," Subramanian said when asked for a theoretical example. "With all their capacity within the UK, they have limited footprint outside of the UK. In order to capture revenue from UK-based media companies-who themselves are trying to reach a global audience outside of the UK-BT needs to offer publishing platforms to UK companies that serve a global audience while still lowering BT's own cost of delivery.

"So how to do this without setting up their own CDN in all the targeted countries?" he continued. "One model might be BGP, but that only looks at the closest user, while the MediaMelon approach-with its ability to deliver chunks from multiple locations, can measure performance from various nodes and serve the video stream from multiple locations using multiple Edgeware appliances, regardless of which network they reside on."

Finally, I asked whether the proposed joint solution had the potential to short-circuit internal development of delivery solutions that the telcos or MSOs have made part of their internal focus for the past several years. 

"While an off-the shelf solution can dramatically reduce time to market and R&D investment," said Edgeware's Hayes, "the joint solution also enables a highly differentiated CDN offering which would not be possible with standard servers and DNS based session routing. Over the last ten years, operators have turned to off-the-shelf solutions for delivery of their own IPTV TV and video services - such as the UDP solutions that Edgeware provides - so it is logical that this joint approach to web TV will extend to video CDN services for delivery of other OTT services."

"The ability to deploy video CDN services faster and with greater flexibility is key to telecoms, MSOs and ISPs choosing our joint solution," said Subramanian. "With the MediaCloud Overlay, a provider could add delivery nodes, such as those from Edgeware, to existing internal developments, offering larger capabilities at for a much lower capital outlay. MediaCloud offers the capability for telcos/MSOs to create/manage the delivery network, adding delivery sources over time internally and also through the federated models MediaCloud provides to extend the CDN network outside the telecom or MSO's regional footprint."