European Content Delivery Summit Results in Federated CDN Trial

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As the event chair I'm admittedly biased, but I think it's safe to say that the second European Content Delivery Summit, held as part of Streaming Media Europe in London last week, was well received by those who took part. Just from some of the personal feedback I had from most of the delegates I spoke to I would go so far as to say it was a solid success..

With an increasing number of similarly named events in the sector, all based in London and not to mention StreamingMedia’s own events in the U.S., the challenge to differentiate the event in Europe is not insignificant. Unlike some of thos events, our focus has been on internal discussion within the industry with an emphasis on "mind share" and open peer review. While we heard from some companies in a traditional "this is what we do’"format, those same speakers joined other sessions and helped the debate along, breaking free from towing their PR line to put forward valuable insight.

The attitude was one of "Let's see where we can help each other better." With some fantastic input from both the BBC and ProSiebenSat1 (which clarified some of the real challenges that they meet), followed by insights into Limelight and Level 3,  by lunch everyone had a good picture of what the content delivery market is doing on a global level, and how much investment is being made to address that market.

As we returned from lunch the discussion moved to technical subjects. First was a broad look at the technical evolution of the CDNs with commentators from every type and aspect of CDN, although the planned cloud representative was missing due to illness. Clearly the direction of growth is toward HLS and similar adaptive bitrate formats, with a hand off to HTTP as we get anywhere deep into the network, but we were reminded that RTMP remains the predominant video transport protocol.

The application trends session yielded some interesting topics, ranging from the complexity of reaching perhaps 60 Android devices—a question from the floor pointed out that while all the server platforms had headed toward automatically treating video for devices in all permutations of network conditions and with almost any transport and codec, none could manage the HTML or Flash application as a whole, rescaling it and rearranging the markup/presentation later on the fly—through to Flash announcing a caching origin, and Wowza announcing that one of these would come soon too.

Ultraviolet, Common File Format, MPEG DASH, and of course HLS were the buzz words of the sessions. and while I don’t plan to cover them here, you'd do well to do your own research, since they are clearly on the current and future agendas for all the major video server platforms, which in turn means they will be supported by CDNs in due course.

The sponsor sessions were a good contribution to the day, and while hosting centers Equinix and Interxion have a lot to tell us about air conditioning and power redundancy, they managed to keep the focus on first the benefits for a CDN using their facilities and then the degree to which they can host many wider aspects of the digital workflow.

The Future of CDN Federation

Finally we wrapped the day up with an experiment: an open group discussion on CDN Federation. For some years now we have heard discussions about CDN Federation and at the Streaming Media East Content Delivery Summit we even had some presentations about the art of the possible, but when programming the event this year, I felt strongly we needed a "call to arms" to actually move beyond discussion into action.

The first part of the session was a collective discussion about what "CDN Federation" means to different groups. Some speakers likened it to mobile roaming, an assertion that generated some lively debate. The key difference is that all mobile interconnects are private, yet not all CDN Federation routes would necessarily be so. Looking at the wider use cases, one of the obvious points of technical interop at the heart of the debate could best be seen between "global" or "overlay" CDNs and regional, telco, or "operator" CDNs. The operators have deeper access network penetration, but limited international reach (such as the overlays do).

Its is clear that the success of any CDN Federation strategy relies on an agreed-upon set of interoperable technical standards and business processes. It was also clear from the debates that all parts of the content delivery chain are keen to explore the viability of federation, since everyone stands to gain from it.

I co-opted several parties from the floor to participate in some initial trials, and over the next few weeks I anticipate reaching out to these companies to begin a trial interop. The group ranged from Russia's CDNvideo through a global player to two regional operator CDNs. We also had a content provider offer sources for testing, and a hosting facility has offered some sponsorship and facilities too.

So as far as experiments go I was delighted with the result and I look forward to the CDN Federation session becoming a cornerstone of the Content Delivery Summit over the next few years while we establish a working platform for the industry.

On a wider note about the day, I was both expecting more operator CDNs to attend (they made up the bulk of last year's CDN attendees) and also not expecting so much interest from the content providers. The CDNs and representatives that did turn up were from around the world, with a notable increase from Russia and from Eastern Europe.

While the choice of industry events for CDNs is almost on par with the number of CDNs, I was delighted that we managed to, for a second year in a row, provide a quality of discussion that is unique, given the close relationship to Streaming Media. Many faces had returned from the first year, and so I feel we are encouraging a valuable, on-going discussion, enabling those who are part of the industry to really share with their peers. And that, in my mind, is what both a conference and a summit should be about!

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