Maximizing Content Delivery Performance: How to Implement a Multi-CDN Strategy


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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A multi-CDN strategy may now be essential in providing users with the best experience. What are the benefits of this and how can you implement one successfully?

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Maximizing Content Delivery Performance: How to Implement a Multi-CDN Strategy
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The world is more digital than ever, and the expectations of users have grown accordingly. Consumers today are accustomed to smooth, trouble-free access whenever they're online, no matter where they are, what device they're using, or what network they're connecting through.

Delivering a smooth performance is especially important for providers of video. In addition to the increase in on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the last few years have seen a huge jump in demand for live-streaming, as people move away from traditional broadcast services like cable and satellite.

This means that when there are big events taking place, networks are being put under huge pressure. For example, the 2018 FIFA World Cup saw online streaming traffic almost quadruple from the previous tournament four years earlier, with Akamai reporting a peak of 24Tbps being streamed to devices including PCs, gaming consoles and smart TVs.

With so many people trying to connect, the risk of buffering or downtime increases, and the consequences of this can be severe for content providers. For instance, Limelight claims that 78% of people will stop watching an online video after it buffers three times, while the majority of people won't wait more than five seconds for a website to load.

However, video providers aren’t the only companies that’ll be affected by these issues. Therefore it's vital that firms have tools in place to avoid any problems, and increasingly, this means having multiple solutions for getting content to users. And for many, the answer to this is a multi-CDN strategy.

What is a multi-CDN strategy?

A content delivery network (CDN) is a solution that ensures users can access internet services quickly and without problems such as latency. It consists of a geographically-distributed network of servers that work together to deliver content, reducing the distance between a resource and an end-user, and ensuring that performance doesn't drop as traffic increases.

A multi-CDN strategy, by extension, uses two or more CDNs to deliver resources, with intelligent systems selecting the most appropriate service based on factors such as the user's location and current network load.

Combining multiple CDN solutions into a single network gives you many more options for connecting with your end-users no matter where they’re in the world, and ensures there are no 'blind spots' within the network where users still suffer from poor service.

Key benefits of having multiple CDNs

There are several reasons why it’s a good idea to adopt a multi-CDN strategy as opposed to relying on a single solution. Some of the major advantages include:

Better performance

The use of multiple networks gives you more options for choosing the most suitable CDN for a user, based on their country, region or ISP. This also ensures traffic is spread out and sent via the most efficient source, reducing bottlenecks and improving latency, start-up times, and throughput.

Improved resilience

Service outages can prove highly costly, with the Ponemon Institute calculating the cost of downtime at around $9,000 per minute. Having a multi-CDN solution can avoid this, as if one network goes down, traffic can be instantly switched to other sources without any disruption for end-users.

Higher capacity

If you're straining the limits of what a single CDN can cope with, it's much easier to add new networks and distribute load evenly between them rather than attempt to increase the capacity of a single solution.

Greater agility

Having multiple providers means you avoid being locked into the solutions used by a single provider. Because a multi-CDN solution will by its nature need to be vendor-agnostic, it's easy to switch between services and provision new services quickly.

5 best practices for implementing a multi-CDN strategy

So how should you go about implementing such a solution? A poorly-researched or misconfigured multi-CDN solution could end up causing more problems than it solves. Therefore, here are a few best practices to keep in mind to ensure your deployment goes off without a hitch.

1. Determine if it's the right solution for you

Despite the headline benefits it can provide, a multi-CDN strategy may not be right for every organization. If you have a large, geographically-diverse audience, you frequently exceed traffic limits or an outage of just a few minutes will do great damage, a CDN is probably the best option. However, if your services don't demand real-time, no-latency performance, it may not be the wisest use of your resources.

2. Know your users

Understanding the profile of your users is vital in determining which CDN solutions will work best for you. Look at where they’re located, for example, as well as the type of content they'll be accessing. Not all CDN providers are equal, so it's important you're partnering with one that has a presence in your most important regions.

You should also consider your plans for the future. For instance, if you're aiming to move into a new overseas market, having a CDN provider that’s already able to cope with this can save a lot of work later on.

3. Choose the most appropriate delivery partner

A geographic presence that fits your user base is far from the only factor to look for in a prospective CDN partner, however. A key element will be how their services will integrate with your existing workflows. Some solutions, for instance, will sit on top of existing workflows instead of seamlessly integrating with them, which can add greater complexity to your environment.

4. Don't overlook load balancing

Having a system that ensures your loads are being managed effectively between multiple providers is key. Without this, you may find one of your networks is going underutilized, leaving others to pick up the slack, or users are being routed to a less-effective network than is available. To avoid this, you need an intelligent traffic management system that can automatically allocate resources for optimal performance.

5. Have the right KPIs to measure performance

Finally, it's vital that you're able to see at a glance how every part of your multi-CDN strategy is performing. This means establishing consistent monitoring parameters that’ll give accurate results from each network and allow for direct comparisons.

It's not enough to simply set out a few KPIs such as latency, throughput or error rate - you also need to be certain that these are being measured in the same way across your CDNs. Without this, you won't have a clear idea of what's performing well and where improvements need to be made.

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