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The Edge

The impact of the ever-shifting edge

Conventional content distribution networks (CDNs) continue to evolve as consumers drive the demand for more high-quality content without delay. To meet these needs, service providers must continue to move "the edge" closer to the consumer.

The edge can be an elusive term at times, but what is clear is that the closer the media provider can get their content to the consumer, the better service quality they can provide. As global CDN providers strive to locate their edge caches within a service provider’s access network, what has become apparent to the service providers is that there is value they can monetize by having their own CDN located in the access network. It is through this emergence of edge CDNs that the edge draws closer to the consumer.

This shifting of the edge is having evolutionary effects on global CDNs. The primary effect has been the proliferation of "edge CDNs." And as a result, we have begun to see the shifting of the economics of media distribution along with the types of business models that service providers can offer to content providers.

Why the edge CDN?

Essentially, edge CDNs put content closer to the consumer and place control of the service delivery in the hands of the service provider. Edge CDNs give control of the operation and performance optimization to the local service provider and the content provider, while enabling the middle mile to evolve at its own pace.

This also puts edge CDNs in position to support the emerging "edge compute" for applications requiring localized sources of processing. This latter trend, fueled by 5G networks via multi-access edge computing (MEC), is placing virtual edge devices within hundreds of feet of the consumer. The result is the enriching of consumers’ lives with a plethora of Internet of Things (IoT) applications, i.e., the connected lifestyle.

The commoditization of the middle mile

Over the past decade, cloud providers have leveraged peering locations to provide more localized delivery using CDN and global load balancing techniques

As a result, delivery from the origin site to the local service provider has commoditized to the point where service providers can now offer “multi-CDN” capabilities to content providers. This allows the content provider to arbitrage price and performance across several CDN vendors, including cloud hosting providers and global CDN providers.

The edge CDN proliferates

As the global CDN middle mile is commoditized, it may act more like a transport network, and thus enable the opportunity for local service providers to embellish their self-serving edge CDN.

An intimate benefit of edge CDNs is they make it possible for better management and use of an onslaught of analytics in real time. This ability can efficiently enable instant insights and visibility into the performance of the network, the end devices and the content.

Subsequently, Machine Learning (ML) becomes capable of optimizing performance of the delivery network in real time, which can reduce delivery costs and achieve ultra-low latency.

For the content providers, this results in greater visibility and control of delivery to their consumers. And finally for the service provider, a more predictable network, a more effective financial model, flexibility in use of global CDNs and use of multicast-ABR all become available.

A greater transformation on the horizon?

What has become the commoditization of the middle mile now brings about alternative approaches to delivering content to edge CDNs. These new techniques can deliver content to edge CDNs and can enable ultra-low latency and high scalability.

One example is using a new form of streaming protocol, High Efficiency Streaming Protocol (HESP). HESP can achieve sub-second latency over long-haul networks. It also achieves greater bandwidth optimization than current protocols. Most importantly, for the middle mile, it can add virtually endless scaling.

Alternatively, WebRTC has been shown to deliver high-quality ABR linear channels. These can be customized by simulcasting channels by bitrate, framerate or resolution. WebRTC serves as a real-time communications scheme for web browsers, without the need for plug-ins or native applications. The customized versions of WebRTC today are providing ultra-low latency, scalability and high availability for live and linear services.

Longer term, we may even see the conventions of using TCP/IP and HTTP being challenged, potentially eroding the necessity to transport playable formats over the middle mile, and instead use intermediate formats – where, for example, delivery of common formats like Common Media Application Format (CMAF) can reduce upstream bandwidth and local storage, while allowing packaging in the final format to be done closer to the consumer.

The wholesale model emerges

Through the use of edge CDN, service providers can embrace a wholesale model approach for their content providers. In this new model, the content provider gets greater visibility and control, along with lower cost and better performance. The service provider also gets better visibility and control and greater network offload savings.

Service providers can take wholesaling even further as they containerize their caches, making for an efficient business model through multi-tenancy. These models would allow the content provider to secure capacity from the service provider, along with a Service-Level Agreement (SLA).

The shift paying off

This all boils down to a deconstruction of the traditional CDN, which is proving beneficial for both providers and viewers. As the edge shifts closer to the consumer, performance is improved, costs are reduced and ultra-low latency is achieved. Through containerization and multi-tenancy, content providers can secure capacity that comes with an SLA, leading to greatest visibility and control of delivery to their consumers. For the service provider, a more predictable network, a more effective financial model and scaling through multicast-ABR are achieved. This overall shift also leads to new middle-mile alternatives supporting ultra-low latency and high scalability.

This deconstruction of global CDNs is facilitating the dramatic shift of the edge – one where edge CDN offers service providers and content providers a watershed of new efficiencies and capabilities, while enriching consumers’ lives. As a result, we can keep up with the consumer demand for broadcast quality anywhere, anytime and on any device, at least for now.

— Mark Myslinski, Broadcast Solutions Manager, Synamedia

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