Dot-coms and major media companies have used pricey content delivery network (CDN) services for years to accelerate the delivery of consumer-facing content, but the technology has drawn little interest from wide area network (WAN) managers in more traditional markets. That could change as CDN prices fall and adoption of Web-based applications rises at brick-and-mortar enterprises -- but not for some time.
Accelerating an enterprise's Web content hasn't been a consistently assigned responsibility within IT organizations, according to Mike Sapien, principal analyst at Ovum. But that responsibility may fall on WAN managers as enterprises increasingly rely on the Internet to deliver applications and rich media content to customers, partners and remote users.
While WAN optimization controllers accelerate internal traffic, CDN services speed up traffic traveling over the Internet between an enterprise's data center and an internal or external user. CDN providers house multiple data centers around the world that cache content closer to users and determine the most intelligent routing path.
No one service provider controls the Internet, so congestion and unreliable performance are a given. Hundreds of users using the Internet to access the same corporate training video are going to hit bottlenecks, especially when they have to compete with public Internet traffic.
"It's early, but … we're going from a world of Word and Excel files to a world of more graphics, multimedia, audio and video files, which are orders of magnitude larger," Sapien said. "Once you send them around the company and externally, you have to think about the most efficient way to send them somewhere. As those [files] get distributed more, I think that's where the CDN functionality comes into play."
Michael Parella, vice president and IT services manager for a financial services firm in Pennsylvania, doesn't see his WAN suffer much from Web traffic taxing his application and file-sharing servers. Content delivery network services do "sound useful" to him on principle, but not until the Internet becomes the primary network where his users access most of their applications and content.
"[That] perspective would make sense since more and more firms are moving towards SaaS/IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service] models and would be concerned with performance and efficiencies when going there," Parella said. "We'll get there at some point as these offerings mature."
Global markets, distributed workforces and the "interconnected enterprise" WAN of customers, partners and suppliers will eventually push CDN services to the mainstream, according to John Buten, marketing manager for enterprise industry at Akamai Technologies Inc., a CDN provider based in Cambridge, Mass., which maintains 75,000 servers in 700 locations to accelerate content delivery around the globe.
"We've really transformed from static content delivery to application acceleration," Buten said. "That has brought us from our traditional market -- media and entertainment … to the commerce companies that aren't just accelerating the images from their catalog, but also the shopping cart and transaction."
For now, Parella said his WAN application delivery needs have been internal. After consolidating data and services from two branch offices to his main data center about three years ago, he invested in Riverbed Technology's Steelhead WAN optimization controller, which "alleviated much of the added stress we put on the network."
But Parella sees document and PDF file sizes growing and more audio and video traffic on the WAN. And he expects that eventually more traditional enterprises will need to improve how users access that same content via the Internet.
"Right now, we've gone with a WAN optimization solution to meet [our] needs," he said. "As time goes on, CDNs may be something to look closer at in the future."
CDN services become more affordable, relevant
So far, content delivery network services have been most relevant to dot-coms such as Netflix or Amazon, which both use Akamai Technologies' CDN services to accelerate streaming video or e-commerce transactions, Sapien said.
But networking pros who work in traditional markets -- such as manufacturing, finance or retail -- could be asked to support online customer service videos for common problems to take some burden off of call centers, he said.
"It's an indirect impact versus a direct impact [on the WAN]," Sapien said. "Some of the information websites are pulling and some of the queries and data come from the WAN or the LAN of the company."
Meanwhile, traditional enterprises without a pressing need for CDN services have long been priced out of the market with services costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. But competition among providers has forced down prices, and CDN services may start to be more accessible.
With competition driving down prices, CDN service providers are looking to expand their customer base by targeting brick-and-mortar enterprises.
Global Crossing has developed enterprise-focused services by partnering with CDN service providers Limelight Networks and EdgeCast Networks, according to Andrew Peacock, senior product manager for CDNs at Global Crossing.
Enterprises can use the service for users accessing corporate content over the Internet by restricting the IP address range for downloading a video, he said. The service can also automatically generate a unique and one-time-only identifier for the URL that's accessed, preventing users from sharing it with unauthorized viewers.
"[Enterprises] realize their own website or series of websites are increasingly relevant portions or reflections of their brand," Peacock said. "Most of what we'd consider a traditional enterprise customer -- financial services, healthcare, automotive, manufacturing, consumer product organizations -- are starting to look much more intently at CDNs."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer