Streaming Forum: Is CDN Just a Marketing Term?

"Search for the term 'CDN' on Google, and you'll find the major players don't even show up until after page ten," said Dom Robinson, co-founder and director of id3as, at the outset of a Streaming Forum session titled The Future of CDNs.

"If none of the major CDNs come up in those early pages," he added, "is CDN just a marketing term?"

"We find that the industry is shying away from the term CDN," said James Fletcher, commercial director of, and one of five panelists for The Future of CDNs session.

"As we've rebranded our products, we're calling it content delivery," said Jason Thibeault, senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks. "We consider the term CDN as an application only."

Mike Smith, solutions engineer, edge computing & CDN services for Mirror Image, said his company has moved away from the term CDN.

"We now call ourselves a DDN, a dynamic delivery network," said Smith.

Based on that premise, Robinson then posited a series of questions to the panelists. One of the first questions centered on how to manage the two-fold challenge of managing the transition from the term CDN to broaden market offerings without annoying current customers.

"The biggest challenge we faced was the question from our existing customers about Limelight no longer focusing on being a CDN," said Thibeault, referring to the fact that Limelight has acquired content management systems and other market vertical businesses over the past eighteen months. "We have worked to integrate all of the stories to educate the market."

Stef van der Ziel, CEO of Jet-Stream, who has just finished a 1 terabit-per-second CDN project with Ericsson for a Russian telecommunications provider, said his company hasn't shifted focus.

"We will never get into our customers' territory," said van der Ziel. "It would kill our business," said van der Ziel.

"The term CDN will exist for some time, "said Miles McWilliams, head of global sales for IP Transit and CDN with Deutsche Telekom. "But I think people will be much more precise services."

"I think it becomes a matter of function," said Thibeault. "Companies know they need a provider to help deliver content, as they know it's not their core competency."

In terms of pricing, van der Ziel said competing on price is the wrong strategy.

"As the owner and investor in my company, I'm very concerned that we make a profit," he said. "Anyone buying a deal is in the wrong space. When we're asked to buy a deal, we tell the customer to 'go bankrupt one of our competitors'."

Robinson then asked about the impact of Amazon's rate card.

"CDN is a very small part of Amazon's business," said McWilliams, "So will they become a major competitor? I doubt it."

"We're seeing a lot of people transitioning from Amazon to a CDN like ourselves," said Smith. "They'll dabble a bit with Amazon, but outgrow it, in terms of analytics, etc."

"Customers who have used Amazon, as they add more traffic, come to us or our competitors and say 'I need a real CDN," said Thibeault.

"The most challenging thing for CDNs is to handle the spikes once or twice a year," said van der Ziel. "We help customers build a basic infrastructure to handle ninety-five per cent of their traffic, and then offload to Amazon to handle the spikes."

"I wouldn't exactly agree," said Thibeault. "We have to handle the spikes, for big customers such as Netflix."

Robinson then segued the discussion into a technical one, ranging from topics as diverse as edge delivery versus single-codec and segmentation issues, as well as ways to address geographic regions. Readers can view the panel stream online in the next few weeks.

One was on the topic of MPEG-DASH and new encoding formats.

"We offer a service where we can receive a single stream and then re-encapsulate to HLS, Smooth Streaming, and others," said Smith. "Many others on this panel can do this, too, but we focus on it.

Smith added that, whether it is DASH or "the codec flavor of the day", the industry is always in flux.

"We still see the majority of our streaming traffic is RTMP," said Thibeault. "Almost 85% of our traffic is RTMP. It will go away over time, but maybe in 10-15 years."

"MPEG-DASH is just another example of everyone trying to agree on a format that no one is going to agree on," he added.

"Over 80% of our streaming is in RTMP," said van der Ziel, adding that his customers may add HLS to their RTMP delivery services, but they don't replace RTMP.

Watch the full presentation below:

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