What the heck is a CDN? It stands for “Content Delivery Network,” and it’s the unsung hero on the Internet that’s responsible for blazingly-fast webpage loading. While a good Internet connection will allow you to access stuff on the web without any slowdowns on your end, there’s also the problem of server load and how fast a company’s network can get that content out to you. This is usually where the bottleneck is, believe it or not.

With today’s speeds, you should be able to get fast downloads with 10 to 12Mbps. Anything over 15 or 18, and you probably won’t see much of a difference in speeds with current website, video, and image technology.

People Watch a Lot Of Video

U.S. consumers watch about 30 hours of video per week, and much of that isn’t coming from traditional T.V. sources. Nope, it’s coming from sites like Netflix which, according to a study done by Sandvine, grabs 1/3rd of all Internet traffic. Combined with YouTube, the dynamic duo account for more than half of the North American peak download traffic on fixed networks.

Wow. Most people who use Netflix are, of course, watching T.V. shows and movies. Most of the people who watch YouTube are looking for educational content or short-version entertainment. They’re actively downloading copyright-free content using converter programs and websites like http://youtubedownload.altervista.org/ so they can build sharable databases of select content for later use when offline. Unlike Netflix, most people access YouTube on their mobile device, and with many cell service providers forcing metered data, users are looking for ways to download content over Wi-Fi to spare their precious data. But, if you’re downloading content, make sure you remember to respect intellectual property rights.

It’s squeezing service providers who don’t know exactly what to do. On the one hand, they’ve worked hard to phase out “all you can eat” cellular data service. On the other, their broadband service is getting more crowded as Wi-Fi traffic spikes to fulfill video demand.

Appetite Is Growing

Appetite for video is not shrinking, it’s growing. While companies like Time Warner and AT&T are seeing a decline in T.V. subscriptions, Amazon, Apple, and Google are all seeing increases in user downloads. Why? People want to watch movies and T.V. shows on their terms, not the distributors’.

Consumers also have a propensity for “content snacking.” They don’t want to sit around and watch video all day long. They want to be entertained or educated 5 minutes at a time – and the success of ad-supported sites like Vevo and YouTube are proof of that.

Pew Research shows that 47 percent of Internet users take photos or videos that they’ve found online and repost them. Guess what? If they’re reposting them, they’re watching them. That’s a lot of shares, and views. Remember, if 47 percent of people are sharing, that means that at least as many are watching.

Strained Network Connections

But, for all of its popularity, the problem of delivery grows larger and larger by the year. Consumers seem willing to pay for higher speeds, but what’s really needed are more extensive CDNs. CDNs are a way to cache and store content closer to the user than the home server.

So, for example, let’s say you want to watch Netflix movies. You live in New York, and Netflix has servers in California. Well, that’s pretty far away, even with DSL or Fiber. A delay of several seconds means a degraded user experience.

Fortunately, Netflix thought of this already and they use Limelight CDN. What does it do? It places content on what are called “edge servers.” these servers are located near you so that you don’t have to wait very long for downloads. It also spreads out the load on the servers so that all of Netflix’s customers aren’t trying to access the same server all at once.

Going forward, however, these CDNs will have to grow. User demand is already pushing CDNs to their limit. It’s a sort of content consumption arms race. Hopefully, the content providers win. And, there’s some evidence that they are winning. Netflix, for example, is building out its own CDN, cutting deals with big telecoms like AT&T and Verizon, as well as Comcast.

It hopes to deliver a more streamlined service to users, improve download speeds as well as improve video quality for users.

But, outside of sites like Netflix, even large cable companies have to start thinking about ways to beef up their CDN. As these companies now mostly reside on either fiber networks, or other high-speed lines, they are running into performance issues too. Customers simply won’t stand for slow or unreliable service. They’re already leaving the service providers in droves.

Ron Waters tracks web trends with a keen eye for innovation. From social media apps to games and videos, he often blogs about new ideas and shifts in the industry.

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June 4, 2015

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