European Summit to Look at the Sharp Knives of CDN Federation
CDN federation, a system where multiple CDNs work together while remaining autonomous, got a small push into existence at last year's Content Delivery Summit Europe, when several attendees volunteered to create a pilot project. As this year's Summit nears (it's been renamed the Video Infrastructure Summit and will be held on October 15, 2012, in London), summit chair Dom Robinson sat down with StreamingMedia.com editor Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen for a look at federation and other issues facing CDNs.
"Several years ago I was operationally involved in a CDN, and we were starting to talk with other European CDNs about creating some sort of federation," explained Robinson. "Last year's session was an attempt to try and move that from casual debate into some call to arms."
Looking at the discussions taking place at the recent Content Delivery Summit in New York City, Robinson sees that federation is a hot topic, but doesn't see that it has a long future.
"The feeling I got after there was a lack of follow-up after the initiative we kicked-off in London last year is that the CDN federation movement is a very useful market-research exercise for small CDNs trying to understand what their competition is doing and where to deploy their capex," said Robinson. "Once they've done that federation, once they've used someone else's infrastructure to get a feel for a market, they want to get their margin back. They want to deploy their own kit. So CDN federation is a kind of interesting double-edged sword, where I think people are shaking hands and being very egalitarian and partner-y on one hand, and behind their back they've got a fairly sharp knife."
To view the full discussion, watch the video below.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Hi. I'm Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen, the editor of StreamingMedia.com and Streaming Media magazine, and we're here in New York City at the Streaming Media East show. I have with me Dom Robinson, who is the chair of the Content Delivery Summit that we put on each year as part of Streaming Media Europe in London. This year it'll be on October 15th, which is a Monday, at the Olympia Conference Center in London. Dom, the Content Delivery Summit is based on or it's kind of an offshoot of what Dan Rayburn has done here for a number of years, but it's also a quite different event than the U.S. event. Tell me a little bit about how it's different, how it's unique.
Dom Robinson: It is. In my experience the New York event often has a very strong financial focus, and certainly Dan's presentation of numbers is unique. And I think when you asked if I could get involved in programming it or something, I felt I couldn't do that sort of justice, and actually I'm not sure there's the same focus of analysts and so on in London. But there are a number of companies, a number of organizations who use content distribution networks and get involved in the whole content delivery ecosystem who needed some sort of engagement with the wider picture of what's going on. And so we attempt in the London program to create a peer discussion more than a particularly vendor-to-client-focused discussion.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: For this year's event you're focusing in the first part of the program on delivering movies online. You've got someone from the MPAA speaking. What are the challenges and opportunities that delivering movies online present to the content delivery world?
Dom Robinson: So long-form content sets different expectations. People typically expect to pay a premium for it, which I think means that the quality of experience as it's become or quality of service has to meet the expectations set by the fee. The actual video quality tends to be higher, therefore the bitrates tend to be higher, so the routine challenges, the proxying and the edging challenges tend to be that much more complex. So every year I like to have a certain type of media open the discussions to give us some frame of reference. Last year we had the BBC talking about their preparations for the Olympics largely. And it's useful throughout the rest of the day when we're talking about content delivery to have some form of content to talk about in isolation. Moving bytes and bits, it's a geek sport, but when we start talking about moving movies around, it becomes interesting to my mom and dad, and that's important.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Right, right. So who should attend the Content Delivery Summit in Europe?
Dom Robinson: I think this year we're trying to widen it out to cover the whole ecosystem, so the people who come to Streaming Media who are very technical I think will enjoy the Content Delivery Summit. I'm never afraid to let the conversation become technical in the Content Delivery Summit. People who are trying to deliver operating service models where they're charging subscribers, they're actually trying to make, if you like, the cable TV model move online, the OTT model move online -- I think we're trying to reach out to device manufacturers and people doing smart TV rather than just the networks behind that, and application developers as well. I think there's quite a broad spectrum of people involved in the content delivery space, and the summit's open to all of them.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Right. Now, this year you've got two sessions devoted to the issue of piracy.
Dom Robinson: Yeah.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: And piracy is obviously -- it's always a hot topic. There are very vocal opinions on either end of the issue, from the complete anti-piracy absolutists to the lock it all down absolutists on the other end. What's the state of the discussion surrounding online movie piracy today? Do you think the content owners are coming at it from the right angle?
Dom Robinson: I certainly think everything was brought to the fore with the discussions about SOPA and ACTA earlier this year, and as we started to draw the program together that was certainly forefront in my mind. It's clearly a battle. Dare I call the broadcast industry a legacy industry, but there is an industry that's trying to resist that change. It's very disruptive for them what's happening on the internet. There's all sorts of freedom of expression concepts. I could sort of call them rights, but because it's a global phenomenon, you can't really say it's a right as it is in the States, but I think people do want to feel that they can use their media in whatever way they want. Unfortunately tearing down those barriers sometimes opens the problem into widespread piracy. The first of the two sessions I think is going to put some real measure on this. There's a very interesting company I've asked to present some data. They scour the internet looking at particularly sports rebroadcasting piracy, and then they do deep analysis into how the ad banners that are sponsoring that -- how much money they're driving, how much the pirates are earning from this. And I think probably the most interesting part of their analysis is the strongest sponsors of illegal pirate sports rebroadcasting are often the sports broadcasters themselves. So you see -- I don't know if I should mention the names, but you see a sports broadcaster has a banner sponsoring the pirate rebroadcast of their own channels. So I think it's going to be very interesting getting some of that new but relatively involved data set presented.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: You close the program with a discussion on MPEG DASH. What are the implications for MPEG DASH for the online video industry and particularly for the content delivery industry?
Dom Robinson: I wanted to have this debate with Dan actually on a bit of one-to-one, but my gut feeling is I think MPEG DASH is going to increase the rate of commoditization in the pure CDN industry. I think differentiation is going to be very difficult, because in the same way that H.264 has almost become the ubiquitous standard for video encoding now, I think for transport and for distribution MPEG DASH is clearly going to become -- it's going to have a strong case to become the standard, which is going to make it very difficult for pure-play CDNs to differentiate on their technology offerings. So, anyway, we've invited John Simmons, who is one of the sort of core instigators of the MPEG DASH standard, to come to have an open session so that people who come to the London summit can just ask and understand more about MPEG DASH, about how to deploy it, about where it's going to have benefits for them. Hopefully by that stage we will be kind of putting the wraps if not already have the wraps on the standard. So whereas today we've got Iraj speaking about that process and how it's coming to a close, by the time we get to October I'm anticipating we'll actually have a standard released, which I think will mean we'll start to see that whole movement really take off.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: There was a lot of excitement last year, particularly at the end of the day, surrounding the discussion about CDN federation. In fact, there was even a group of attendees who volunteered to put together a pilot project and explore CDN federation in action. What's the state of CDN federation today? What came of that proposal, and in the bigger picture where do you think federated CDN stands right now?
Dom Robinson: So several years ago I was operationally involved in a CDN, and we were starting to talk with other European CDNs about creating some sort of federation, more of a sort of show of force to try and resist some of the bigger global players just completely dominating the pure market. Last year's session was an attempt to try and move that from casual debate into some call to arms. It's been interesting. At yesterday's Content Delivery Summit over here, CDN federation was really a very popular topic. The term kept appearing. But the sense I've got or the feeling I got after there was a lack of follow-up after the initiative we kicked-off in London last year is that the CDN federation movement is a very useful market-research exercise for small CDNs trying to understand what their competition is doing and where to deploy their capex. Once they've done that federation, once they've used someone else's infrastructure to get a feel for a market, they want to get their margin back. They want to deploy their own kit. So CDN federation is a kind of interesting double-edged sword, where I think people are shaking hands and being very egalitarian and partner-y on one hand, and behind their back they've got a fairly sharp knife, and they're going to take those partners out the moment they see that they can increase their margin. I'm a bit cynical now. The people who was on it had a great presentation or a great panelist yesterday who was giving some very strong arguments in favor of CDN federation, but I also noticed he positioned his company as the clearinghouse. And by contrast Cisco's CDN federation pilots have addressed everything apart from settlement, so it's a very moot point, certainly a very hot topic of debate, but I certainly don't see a very long-term future for it personally. Medium-term, yes. Long-term, no.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Great. Well, we'll talk about all this and more at the Content Delivery Summit in London on October 15th. Thanks, Dom.
Dom Robinson: See you then. Come.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Absolutely. Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen saying so long from the red carpet at Streaming Media East.
At last year's Content Delivery Summit Europe, there was serious interest in exploring the CDN federation model. Further investigation, however, reveals that the notion was more down to marketing and sales than engineering