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How To Deliver Content for Free!

OK, fine, not for free per se, but using bandwidth that you’ve already paid for.

Now, the uninitiated might ask what’s the big deal – isn’t bandwidth essentially free at this point? And they’d have a point – the cost per Gigabyte of traffic moved across the Internet has dropped like a rock, consistently, for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, Dan Rayburn reported in 2016 seeing prices as low as ¼ of a penny per gigabyte. Sounds like a negligible cost, right?

As it turns out, no. As time has passed, the amount of traffic passing through the Internet has grown. This is particularly true for those delivering streaming video: consumers now turn up their nose at sub-broadcast quality resolutions, and expect at least an HD stream. To put this into context, moving from HD as a standard to 4K (which keeps threatening to take over) would result in the amount of traffic quadrupling. So while CDN prices per Gigabyte might drop 25% or so each year, a publisher delivering 400% the traffic is still looking at an increasingly large delivery bill.

It’s also worth pointing out that the cost of delivery relative to delivering video through a traditional network, such as cable or satellite is surprisingly high. An analysis by Redshift for the BBC clearly identifies the likely reality that, regardless of the ongoing reduction in per-terabyte pricing “IP service development spend is likely to increase as [the BBA] faces pressure to innovate”, meaning that online viewers will be consuming more than their fair share of the pie.

Take back control of your content…and your costs

So, the price of delivery is out of alignment with viewership, and is increasing in practical terms. What’s a streaming video provider to do?

Allow us to introduce Varnish Extend, a solution combining the powerful Varnish caching engine that is already part of delivering 25% of the world’s websites; and Openmix, the real-time user-driven predictive load balancing system that uses billions of user measurements a day to direct traffic to the best pathway.

Cedexis and Varnish have both found that the move to the Cloud left a lot of broadcasters as well as OTT providers with unused bandwidth available on premise.Bymaking it easy to transform an existing data-center into a private CDN Point of Presence (PoP), Varnish Extend empowers companies to easily make the most out of all the bandwidth they have paid for, by setting up Varnish nodes on premise, or on cloud instances that offer lower operational costs than using CDN bandwidth.

This is especially valuable for broadcasters/service providers whose service is limited to one country: the global coverage of a CDN may be overkill, when the same quality of experience can be delivered by simply establishing POPs in strategic locations in-country.

Unlike committing to an all-CDN environment, using a private CDN infrastructure like Varnish Extend supports scaling to meet business needs – costs are based on server instances and decisions, not on the amount of traffic delivered. So as consumer demands grow, pushing for greater quality, the additional traffic doesn’t push delivery costs over the edge of sanity.

A global server load balancer like Openmix automatically checks available bandwidth on each Varnish node as well as each CDN, along with each platform’s performance in real-time. Openmix also uses information from the Radar real user measurement community to understand the state of the Internet worldwide and make smart routing decisions.

Your own private CDN – in a matter of hours

Understanding the health of both the private CDN and the broader Internet makes it a snap to dynamically switch end-users between Varnish nodes and CDNs, ensuring that cost containment doesn’t come at the expense of customer experience – simply establish a baseline of acceptable quality, then allow Openmix to direct traffic to the most cost-effective route that will still deliver on quality.

Implementing Varnish Extend is surprisingly simple (some customers have implemented their private CDN in as little as four hours):

  1. Deploy Varnish Plus nodes within existing data-centre or on public cloud,
  2. Configure Cedexis Openmix to leverage these nodes as well as existing CDNs.
  3. Result: End-users are automatically routed to the best delivery node based on performance, costs, etc.

Learn in detail how to implement Varnish Extend

Sign up for Varnish Software – Cedexis Summit in NYC

References/Recommended Reading:

How to Make Cloud Pay Its Own Way

Rightscale came out with a wonderful report on the state of the cloud industry, and we learned some important new things:

  • 77% of organizations are at least exploring private cloud implementations
  • 82% of enterprises are executing a hybrid cloud strategy
  • 26% of respondents are now listing cost as significant challenge – ironically, given the importance of cost-cutting in the early growth of cloud services

The growth in hybrid cloud adoption is particularly striking: by Rightscale’s count, only 6% of companies are exclusively looking at private cloud,  18% are exclusively looking at public cloud , while a full 71% have a toe dipped into each pool.

Meanwhile, Cisco estimates that two thirds of all Internet traffic will traverse at least one content delivery network by 2020 – which tends to imply that most organizations are, right now, invested in getting the most out of some combination of private cloud, public cloud, CDN, and, presumably, physically-managed data center.

Fundamentally, there are a few core ways that we see organizations using this market basket of delivery pathways – and, naturally, our Openmix global server load balancer – to better serve their customers, and to protect their economics as demand grows, apparently insatiable. The core strategies are:

  1. Balance CDNs, offload to origin. For web-centric businesses, delivering content across the Internet is fundamental to their success (possibly their survival), so they tend to rely upon one or more CDNs to get content to their users effectively. Over time, they tend to expand the number of CDN relationships, in order to improve quality across geographies, and to make the most of pricing differences between providers. Once they get this set to equilibrium, they discover that there is unused capacity at origin (or within a private or public cloud instance) to which they can offload traffic, maximizing the return they get on committed capacity, and minimizing unnecessary spend.
  2. Balance clouds, offload to CDN. For businesses that are highly geographically-focused, it is often more effective to create what is essentially a self-managed CDN, establishing PoPs through cloud providers in population centers where their customers actually originate. Even the most robust internally-managed system, however, is subject to traffic spikes that are way beyond expectations (and committed throughput limits), and so these companies build relationships with CDNs in which excess traffic is offloaded at peak times.
  3. Balance Hybrid Cloud. Organizations at the far right of Rightscale’s cloud maturity scale (in their words, the Cloud Explorers and Cloud Focused) are starting to view each of the delivery options not as wildly distinct options, but merely as similar-if-different-looking cogs in the machine. As such, they look at load and cost balancing through a pragmatic prism, in which each user is simply served through the lowest cost provider, so long as it can pass a pre-defined quality bar (a specified latency rate, for instance, or a throughput level). By shifting the mindset away from ‘primary’ and ‘offload’ networks, organizations are able to build strategies that optimize for both cost and quality.

Of course, to balance traffic across a heterogeneous set of delivery networks (and provider types), while adjusting for a combination of both economic and quality of service metrics, requires three things:

  1. Real-time visibility of the state of the Internet beyond the view of the individual publisher, in order to be able to evaluate Quality of Service levels prior to selecting a delivery provider
  2. Real-time visibility into the current economic situation with each contracted provider: which offers the lowest cost option, based on unit pricing, contract commitments, and so forth
  3. Real-time traffic routing, which takes the data inputs, compares them to the unique requirements of the requesting publisher, and seamlessly directs traffic along the right pathway

Not an easy recipe, perhaps, but when found, it results in the opportunity to apply sophisticated algorithms to delivery – in effect to exercise a Wall Street-level arbitrage approach, which results in a combination of delighted customers, and reduced infrastructure costs.

Or, put another way, the opportunity to make your hybrid cloud strategy pay for itself – and more.

To find out more about real-time predictive traffic routing, please take a look around our Openmix pages,  read about how to deliver 100% availability with a Hybrid CDN architecture, and visit our Github repository to see how easy it is to build your own real-time load balancing algorithm.

Hybrid CDN Infrastructure: How We Got Here

CONTENT DELIVERY EVOLUTION 

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We can all agree to blame Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) for online video: they started an honest-to-goodness online subscription video service in 2002, putting the pressure on everyone else to get in the game.  They turned an adorable hobby into a cut-throat business that is on its way to being worth $70 billion a year.

Today’s leaders enjoy huge valuations (Netflix is worth more than $40B), substantial subscription revenue flows (at around a million subscribers, HBO Now generates nearly $200M annually), and rapidly-growing advertising income (YouTube is estimated to have seen $8.5B in advertising in 2015, and to be on a path toward exceeding $27B by 2020).

However, consumers haven’t sat quietly by and taken whatever they were given. Earlier this year, Ineoquest coined the term Buffer Rage for consumers who become agitated when their playback doesn’t meet expectations. There have been plenty of examples of embarrassing ‘OTT Fails’ (even Netflix isn’t immune), which lead to public wringing of hands and potential cycling of subscribers.

Getting the content from ‘here’ to ‘there’ has been a work in progress since its inception. It has now reached a sustainable place, where the pressures of consumer satisfaction, operational manageability and economic returns, are in balance. Today’s ideal infrastructure is known as Hybrid CDN: a combination of self-managed origin / private CDN, and agreements with third party CDN providers.

But how did we get here?

Getting the video to users has gone through a long, steady evolution, encompassing four phases:

  1. Single Origin
  2. Origin fronted by one CDN
  3. Origin fronted by multiple CDNs
  4. Hybrid CDN

Single Origin Phase

During the original, Single Origin, phase, stalwarts in the IT and Operations teams valiantly fought to get video delivered to end-users from a single data center. It used the technology to which the companies were already accustomed, and the people they already had on staff. On the other hand, this was a system doomed to eventual failure: it relied on a single group of internal experts to be constantly available, and ran into inevitable roadblocks when trying to support geographically-distributed viewers, and even nearby audiences as they grew too big.

Origin Fronted by One CDN Phase

Fortunately, the cavalry was already on the way. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) entered the fray with a solution specifically designed to solve scalability problems: continue to use your own Origin, for sure, but front it with a CDN, so that there are two data centers, and thus redundancy. They had plenty of experts, working in shifts, could scale to large audiences, and maintained points of presence in different spots around the world to serve a more geographically diverse audience. As consumer interest grew, however, so did the cracks in the CDN facade: their customers realized they were locked in to vendors (which became expensive), none of whom were able to replicate their offering exactly in every geographical theater. In other words, CDNs were able to move the ball a long way forward, but ultimately could not bear the load of the whole industry at an affordable price.

Origin Fronted by Multiple CDNs Phase

The CDNS’ customers realized that the CDNs weren’t obsolete – they simply needed to play better together. Instead of committing to a single CDN they moved to the next phase: one Origin fronted by multiple CDNs, to leverage the best of each of the providers. This allowed for improved global performance (with targeted improvements in challenging locales), improved availability, and, importantly, improved leverage for price negotiations.

Hybrid CDN Phase

In the end the solution is inexorable: Hybrid CDN. In Hybrid CDN, a portion of the traffic can be cached and served by low-costs public or private cloud Origins, keeping costs down, and allowing for additional control over sensitive content; the rest can be intelligently distributed across multiple CDNs, enabling a top-notch consumer experience, whenever and wherever, and at the optimal price. Combining the power of easily distributed and scaled cloud origins with commercial CDNs ensure delivery if the best consumer experience, with confidence in its robustness, and with the greatest agility, at the lowest cost.

Which is not to say that Hybrid CDN is without its challenges.  Intelligent switching of traffic from path to path requires huge volumes of Real User Measurements (RUM) to spot risks before they become emergencies, as well as the algorithmic power to start making decisions before failures become evident to the end user.

At Cedexis, we enable you to combine CDN and origin delivery for better performance, control, and cost management.  Click here to learn more. Because to get the right content to the right viewers at the right quality, Hybrid CDN isn’t only the right choice; it’s the only choice.

Hybrid is the new normal. And it starts with Origin Offload.

Cedexis has been delivering Hybrid-CDN for our customers for some time. It has been our observation that in most cases the road to Hybrid is initiated with a simple step – occasional origin offload. What we mean by “occasional origin offload” is the ability of an online architecture to perform some portion of its delivery from its own origin.

No less an expert than Distinguished Analyst Lydia Leong, of Gartner has made this point.

“If you are considering the use of a CDN in order to improve performance to remote users, particularly users in geographic regions where you do not currently have infrastructure, it may be more cost-effective to deploy a local copy of your content or application in cloud IaaS in that region, rather than using a CDN.
-Distinguished Analyst Lydia Leong, Gartner”

In this blog we will explore the advantages of this architecture.

hybrid-cdn

There are three reasons our customers create an origin that can also perform delivery.

  • Cost Reduction – By performing some delivery from the origin where it’s either equal in performance or better, they can save on CDN costs.
  • Localized Performance Improvements – If an enterprise has a highly localized viewership, performance increases can be obtained by locating your origin in the middle of the viewership and doing delivery from there.
  • Security – By building an ability to deliver from origin, you are taking the steps necessary to protect the origin from being DDoS’ed by the CDN – or anyone else. In other words, origin shield is basically a layer of caching around the origin storage. That same architecture is implemented for origin delivery. So, the costs to develop the architecture for delivery is a wash, since it’s a best practice for origin protection in any case.

Let’s look at these in order.

Cost Reductions

Cost reductions can be significant. By implementing the ability for your origin to perform delivery duties, you can reduce your CDN costs. By how much? Well that depends. If your origin can be made to perform really well as a delivery option (and it should) and a big enough percent of your users would be directed to this new Point of Presence to have a reduction in CDN delivery – then you can win big. One example of this is Le Nouvel Observateur, a leading French newspaper, who found that sudden demand variations on its website were creating a noticeable impact on website performance and page load times. When the operations team recorded connection and browsing problems during high-traffic loads, they knew they needed a change from their single CDN provider. They required a creative strategy that would provide excellent end-user performance without increasing costs. So, how to achieve that? Looking for an innovative solution, Cedexis suggested they do some delivery from origin. They executed this and then realized that they could in fact start setting up more cached delivery from more sites. By 2014, they had four Varnish clusters (including origin) and by 2015 they had increased that even more.

New-Observer-Case-Study

They ended up delivering only around 18% of their overall traffic from a global commercial CDN. More importantly, they did this with no negative impact on their user performance. This is a huge saving. You can get more details about this case study here.

Another point with regard to distributing your content across your origin – you demonstrate to your CDN providers that you are capable of alternatives to their service. We have documented the importance of vendor management for cost control in this post, and the point should not be taken too lightly. Ask any procurement officer; good vendor management is the route to costs control over time.

Performance

Performance is the holy grail. Everyone knows the stats – if your site is slow you lose.

Why-people-leave-your-site1

But, what can you do to improve performance? The answer to that might surprise you. You can take matters into your own hands with regard to delivery. Most people think that a global commercial CDN will do a better job than a home-grown system for content delivery. The surprising fact is that caching engines have become ubiquitous and more developer friendly than they used to be, and setting up bare metal clouds (or traditional clouds) has become the defacto standard for operations teams. Combine these facts and you have the ability to rapidly augment a CDN for better performance.

A case in point is ViaMichelin, the travel arm of the Michelin company. ViaMichelin delivers traffic and weather updates, restaurants reservations, hotel bookings and detailed maps – all travel-related services in 11 languages, 45 countries, with over 10 million kilometers of roadways and highways covered. They worked tirelessly to develop a site that was fast. One of their main ways to increase performance was to use a CDN. In fact, a couple of CDNs. They used performance based load balancing to deliver traffic between the two CDNs, but they were looking for other ways to improve performance.

Michelin

They looked at their traffic – it was primarily in Europe and actually not far from where their origins existed. So, by implementing origin delivery they achieved instantly improved performance in those locales. You can go read here about how they succeeded at improving performance!

Security

As we mentioned above, the work involved with developing an origin shield (at least the caching element of origin shield) is pretty much the same effort expended to develop good origin delivery; namely, a caching layer in front of your web servers. Whether done with NGINX, Varnish, Apache, Squid or some other commercial caching engine, it is basically the same architectural element. This was an important element for one of our customers, Virtual Expo. In fact, they were concerned not only about the security that having an exposed origin represented, but because of the valuable nature of the content they were concerned about the multi-tenant nature of any global CDN. They wanted total security for the catalogs that they represented. To do this, they set out by initially delivering from origin and then slowly replacing their entire CDN with caching Points of Presence.

Virtual-Expo

Some wrap-up thoughts

It is important to note that this works for video, web pages or downloads – really any use that you may be putting a commercial CDN to. With video specifically, you may need to use other types of caching engines – basically streaming servers. This could use Universal Media Server, Red5, Wowza or any of bunch of streaming servers that can be set up adjacent to your storage solution. It is also important to note that for simplicity’s sake we have ignored DRM or other protection schemes for video or audio content. These can be addressed by employing a best practice of pulling all of that functionality out of the commercial CDN and implementing it in an alternative SaaS solution. There are many such solutions (for DRM) that can deployed independent of a specific CDN.

OTT Mainstream. Broadcast waves white flag. But how to ensure performance over a best-effort network?

Over-the-Top (OTT) video delivery is mainstream. Full stop. No ifs. No ands. No buts.
OTT-copy1As one proof point, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) recently performed a survey and found the following factoids.

  • One in three Americans over the age of 18 owns either a smart TV or a device that streams video to their TVs
  • Half of connected TV owners say they are more likely to stream content than watch traditional TV because there are fewer commercials
  • 76% say OTT is just as good or better than traditional TV
  • 33% state that OTT provides greater control
  • 29% cite selection/more content of interest
  • 19% of adults 18 and older state that they are watching less traditional TV year-over-year

and from a separate study…

“Over one-third of video consumed per week is OTT.”

For me, having worked in the Internet Video Streaming space back when the 20th century ended, this is really exciting! The “revolution” that was so broadly heralded back then is now here. It took a lot longer than most people thought. It turns out that streaming video over a best-effort network takes a lot of effort. Content Delivery Networks (such as Akamai, Limelight, Level3, Highwinds, Edgecast and many more) grew rapidly to help content companies stream their video. But there were still problems, and those problems kept large swaths of the viewers glued to their cable packages.

What has changed? Why now?

The biggest thing that has changed is that the OTT providers like Netflix have realized that using a single commercial CDN alone does not provide adequate performance and availability to simulate the “TV experience” when going over the top. The reason for this is simple – from an availability standpoint (as measured by RUM) none of the CDNs sustain the 100% availability that your TV has had for 50 years. To see what I mean, go check out our Country Reports and look at “Availability”. You will observe that none of the CDNs are 100% available, and for the most part many of them are around 98% available. That’s 2 out of every 100 requests that are failing. That’s a big number. The number gets much worse in certain parts of the world.

To overcome the natural limitations of a single CDN on best-effort networks, many companies have moved to multiple CDNs, and then in some cases to Hybrid. The reasons for this are simple. If you have 2 pieces of public infrastructure that are both 98% available, and you desire 100% availability, by federating them together you can achieve your goal. And, if you do this using Latency Based Traffic Management you can also reduce buffering, video start times and increase the HD bit rates being consumed.

For more on how to improve your OTT solution, go check out our Guide to Multi-CDN.

All hail the rise of the Hybrid-CDN.

Best Practices can lead to strange places. More and more we are seeing our customers start to take on the complex problem of content delivery themselves. Its starts slow. Occasional Origin delivery. Then they add a caching server in a location where they are not getting good CDN coverage. WOW – big difference for those users in that micro-geography. Then they monitor other areas and start to understand where the performance is bad. And they do it again. Visibility and control. Having the visibility to see where users are suffering is critical to the modern enterprise concerned with performance. Control is even MORE important.

What is a Hybrid CDN?

A hybrid CDN is a Content Delivery Environment in which an organization provides and manages some resources in-house and has other services provided externally (by Public CDN vendors)

Why do many of our clients end up using the hybrid model?

Performance: By deploying caching nodes in regions or locations where CDN coverage is not awesome, an enterprise can make THEIR delivery awesome.

Costs: Taking the top 10 Cedexis clients that have deployed the Hybrid model, we can see how much of the actual delivery they have been able to offload from the CDN. OVER 55%! Delivery outside the CDN is substantially less expensive.

Screen-Shot-2015-05-08-at-6.35.44-PM1

So based on our experience with 100’s of clients we are publishing this Hybrid-CDN maturity model. Most organizations will not ever get to step 4 – although that is where the gold lies. But the advantages of at least getting to stage 3 are enormous and nowhere near as costly or complex as it once was.Hybrd-CDN-Maturity-Model1

To learn more about the Hybrid-CDN and how you can benefit go to our Hybrid-CDN resource center.Screen-Shot-2015-05-08-at-6.38.20-PM1

“Le Nouvel Observateur” magazine optimize its online delivery strategy with Cedexis

Context

The importance of digital media for traditional press media is ever growing.  In France, a recent d’Audipresse study of changes from 2011 to 2012 finds 18 million read online press each day (+4%) with 7 million doing so on mobiles and tablets (+26%).

“Le Nouvel Observateur” is emerging as one of the favorite French digital outlets, as measured by Nielsen/Médiamétrie Institute and OJD.  With a monthly average of 8.5 million unique visitors, 34 million visits, and 140 million of page views, “Le Nouvel Observateur” achieved record performance in 2012, a staggering 96% increase compared to 2011.

Le Nouvel Observateur saw growth across many of their properties, including Challenges.fr, Le Plus – the community website of “Le Nouvel Observateur”, Sciences & Avenir and Rue89, with 37 million visits in September and almost 150 million page views (as certified by OJD).

In keeping with the growth of social media “Le Nouvel Observateur” also counts a 240,000 fans for it’s Facebook presence and generates one of the strongest member’s interaction rates within the French media.

Problem

As you can expect, online media traffic is “bursty” with lots of ups and downs as news breaks.  When journalists get their – sometimes exclusive – story published, it can rapidly spread through social networks and other media causing a cascade of traffic as links and forwards multiply.

Without surprise, “Le Nouvel Observateur” must regularly deal with sudden demand variations on their website, which can have a noticeable impact on website performance and page load times. When the teams at media noticed connection and browsing problems during high traffic loads, they decided to change form their single CDN provider to a multi-provider strategy, however they needed to do so without greatly growing costs.

« Within 18 months our traffic doubled, and content distribution costs through our CDN partner were rising too.  We needed a solution that assured priority of content delivery, but this investment had had to include be sensitive to our budget constraints while guarantying an optimal performance to each and every user, » summarizes François Veux, technical consultant for the media.

There were technical requirements to address as well, the digital version of “Le Nouvel Observateur” generates significant dynamic content and was originally conceived for one CDN.

François Veux adds: « our CDN considerably reduces traffic loads on the infrastructure at origin, as it is caching content once and then spreading it on all the available nodes, as opposed to other CDNs which require one copy per node. It became clear that the problem of adding a new CDN would inevitably multiply the number of requests to the servers at origin. »

Usage of Cedexis

Considering the challenges, Cedexis suggested a novel approach to the customer: to create its own CDN using servers that would be dedicated to caching their dynamic content and thus directly distributing their content to various networks and data centers in France.

To identify a local web hosting provider with good connectivity to the end user ISP networks accessing Le Nouvel Observateur’s websites, Cedexis Radar was used.

François Veux states that, « Le Nouvel Observateur’s audience being 98% of French origin, we made the choice of adding Varnish servers in front of the platform, at origin, to relieve the application servers.  We then deployed a cache with an external provider showing excellent connectivity with the French and European ISP providers used by our visitors. »

 « By using machines dedicated to our dynamic content, their caching rates can be highly optimized, as resources (memory, hard disk) can be dedicated to that specific usage only.  This is as opposed to a global public CDN serving many customers which would frequently purge Le Nouvel Observateur’s content when it’s too ‘old’, » underlines Stéphane Enten, VP of Cedexis Operations.

The Cedexis OpenMix Cloud-based load balancing service was introduced to manage traffic across all the content delivery elements, including the origin platform, the global CDN and the overflow servers. As traffic was distributed between the various platforms the performance of each provider is tracked and adjusted when necessary.

Results

Apart from being one of the rare media to own its external caching service, “Le Nouvel Observateur” was able to actively manage its content distribution and provider’s costs.

« We can today guarantee an optimal browsing experience to all users, including during traffic overloads. Journalists can then publish their news and generate millions of page views without impacting performance » says François Veux.  And, he adds, « we were able to quickly understand that the choices we made thanks to Cedexis were economically and technically very interesting for us. So interesting that we rapidly mounted another Varnish caching server in another French provider’s facility.  That process was managed by the qualified technical teams at ‘Le Nouvel Observateur’. »

In summary, Le Nouvel Observareur can now route around service disruptions due to one of its providers to reach its 100% availability objective.  They can also meet their budget targets by spreading / shaping traffic to their own caching service, via Openmix, as needed whether this routing is by time of day, a trade off of costs vs performance or any other criteria.

Click on graphic for discover the large version