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Video Streaming Content Delivery Networks – What to look for in a CDN in 2021

By Max Wilbert

11 Min Read

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Max Wilbert

Max Wilbert is a passionate writer, live streaming practitioner, and has strong expertise in the video streaming industry.

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      Creating a positive viewer experience is essential for online video broadcasting. Businesses need to deliver a clean viewing experience for their investment in video to be effective. 

      When people watch a poor quality stream, they get upset before they even know it. Investing in professional cameras, microphones, lighting equipment, and encoder are some answers to this issue, but they require some additional support.

      In this post, we will take a look at an investment that professional broadcasters make to ensure an excellent viewer experience: CDNs for live streaming.

      We’re going to talk about what a CDN is and why professional broadcasters should use one.  From there, we’ll look at four key elements of such a video CDN network. To wrap things up, we’ll discuss how to gain access to a powerful CDN for live streaming.

      Table of Contents

      • What is a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?
      • How do CDNs Work?
      • Why Use a CDN for Live Streaming?
      • What to Look for in a CDN
      • How to Access a Powerful CDN
      • Which CDN Does Dacast Use?
      • Conclusion

      What is a Content Delivery Network CDN?

      what is a cdn?
      Content delivery networks, CDNs, are essential for the delivery of high-quality video streaming globally.

      A Content Distribution Network, or “CDN” for short, is a system of servers spread out over different geographical regions that deliver media to users that are far from the source.

      Some of the types of media that CDNs distribute include text, images, video, and much more.

      A CDN is a network of servers distributed around the world and linked via high-speed internet cables. CDNs use software to intelligently distribute traffic throughout the network. This helps route data fast to the closest servers to any user.

      CDNs are essential for professional broadcasting since they allow you to bring high-quality video content to your users around the globe.

      How Do CDNs Work?

      As we mentioned, video streaming CDNs are made up of a collection of servers in different geographic locations. Content jumps from your video host to the closest server, then from that server to another, until it reaches the viewer’s screen.

      These servers are called Internet Exchange Points and they are strategically placed to reduce the transmission time of the video so that your stream is delivered in as close to real-time as possible.

      Content delivery speeds are partially determined by the number of “jumps” that content has to make between you and your viewer. For example, if a distant server is the host, web content on that server may take longer to load than it would if the host was nearby.

      That said, a high-quality CDN can revolutionize and streamline that entire process.

      Why Use a CDN for Live Streaming?

      By now you know that CDNs are important for delivering high-quality streams and ensuring a positive user experience, but you’re likely wondering why this technology, in particular, is so important.

      The importance of CDNs is rooted in the fact that live streaming is a bandwidth-intensive, demanding process. Video files are large and can overload slow internet connections. 

      When it comes to maintaining the quality of a video, a good camera and online video platform simply won’t cut it.

      In recent, The State of Streaming Research Report from IBM reported that 63 percent of live stream viewers cited buffering issues as the most serious issue they experience. That number was an increase from the previous year. In all likelihood, you’ve had a similar frustration.

      Using a live streaming CDN helps reduce these issues. It sends the video content to the servers rather than directly to the viewers. From there the servers distribute it accordingly. 

      This extra step in the process helps to cut out the lagging and buffering that comes with transmitting bulky media files.

      What to Look for in a CDN

      There are a few different aspects of certain CDNs that make them more useful than others. 

      These factors include:

      1. The number of servers in the network
      2. Geographic distribution of the servers
      3. Average performance
      4. Live streaming features

      Let’s take a look at each of these aspects.

      1. Number of Servers in the Network

      cdn servers
      When it comes to servers in your CDN, quantity is just as important as quality.

      A key element of a good CDN for live streaming is a large number of servers. The absolute size of the server network can be used as a proxy for scalability and overall speed. 

      The more servers in a network, the more bandwidth the network can handle.

      This translates to less congestion for users and a better overall experience. A powerful live streaming CDN simply has a large number of servers available.

      2. Geographic Distribution of the Servers

      The distribution of servers is another key element for a live streaming CDN. CDNs operate via what’s called “PoP,” or Points of Presence. This refers to “edge” servers in the CDN network that deliver content directly to viewers. 

      The closer a given viewer is located to the nearest PoP edge server, the better their streaming experience is likely to be.

      Many live streaming CDNs don’t have a huge distribution of edge servers. Typically, concentrations are high in major cities in the US and Europe. Once you start moving to other regions of the world, servers may be sparse or non-existent. 

      When this is the case, users located in these areas will see slower download speeds, lower-quality videos, more buffering problems, and longer video startup times.

      Ideally, your live streaming CDN should have a wide global distribution of servers. These should be focused on the geographic region which contains your major target audience. For many broadcasters, their audience is global. If you’re streaming this sort of more general content, you must use a CDN that has a broad global distribution of CDN servers.

      3. The Average Performance

      cdn performance
      Knowing the average performance of a CDN is highly indicative of its value to broadcasters.

      The next important feature of a CDN is performance. Speed is related to size and several other factors. It’s hard to compare CDN speed directly since it can vary in any particular circumstance.

      However, we can look at average performance to get a sense of CDN speed. Various CDN comparisons look at different providers and average out their performance across long periods to help you get a sense of which is fastest. 

      This is particularly important for live streaming as it leads to fewer viewing problems such as buffering issues.

      4. Live Streaming Features

      The final important element in a CDN for live streaming is its features. Some CDNs provide a greater range of features than others. 

      For example, on the Akamai CDN network, it’s fast and easy to launch as many simultaneous live streams as you desire. We call this live channel provisioning and it’s an advantage of this specific CDN network.

      In contrast, some CDNs don’t support live streaming at all. Look for a CDN that offers the video hosting and live streaming features you need for your online video projects. CDN pricing may also be a factor here.

      How to Access a Powerful CDN

      There are many different CDN providers on the market today. Some of these options include Amazon’s Cloudfront, Microsoft’s Azure, Akamai, and Cloudflare. 

      In the past, we’ve done several blog posts comparing CDNs for live streaming, and we recommend checking those out for more specific information. For this article, we are going to cut to the chase. 

      We believe that Akamai is the best CDN network for live streaming today. It has the largest server network of any CDN—more than 240,000 servers. Plus, its network is global, spanning a range of more than 130 countries, which is wider than any other CDN by far.

      In one analysis of CDN throughput (a good metric for looking at live video streaming performance), Akamai was roughly 14% faster than CloudFront. International tests also tend to show a 15-20% speed advantage for Akamai as a result of its larger global distribution. This is particularly important for live streaming as it leads to fewer viewing problems such as buffering issues.

      One of the best ways to gain access to the Akamai CDN for live streaming is to use an Online Video Platform, such as Dacast. 

      Here at Dacast, we partner with Akamai. All video on demand and live streams on our platform is delivered via Akamai and other powerful CDNs.

      Additionally, Dacast provides a range of video content management tools. These include analytics, a paywall, an advertising system for monetization, embed codes to share your videos easily, a video API to build custom apps, and more. 

      All of these features are available with all of our plans, which simplifies billing compared to using a CDN service directly.

      Which CDN Does Dacast Use?

      dacast cdn
      Dacast’s Live Streaming Platform partners with global CDNs to deliver broadcast-quality video to any screen.

      Here at Dacast, we proudly partner with multiple top-tier CDNs to ensure high-quality video delivery to screens around the world.

      Since Dacast has an ICP certification, we are qualified to deliver content with China. In order to make China delivery possible, we have to use a CDN with the same clearance.

      That being said, Dacast uses several CDNs, but Limelight and Akamai are the two most notable. 


      Content delivery networks are very important for maintaining the quality of your broadcast when you’re streaming bulky video files.

      We hope that this article has given you a better understanding of some of the key features of CDNs for live streaming. There are concrete differences among the different CDN providers on the market. Understanding these differences, and which matter the most for live streaming, can help your video efforts succeed.

      Using an online video platform such as Dacast is the best way to access a high-end CDN. It’s a more feature-rich and affordable option than using a CDN directly and will provide better performance. 

      If you want to see how live streaming with an online video platform paired with a powerful CDN works, we urge you to take advantage of our 30-day free trial. That way, you can test out streaming over the Akamai CDN right now.

      Sign up today to start your risk-free trial. No credit card necessary.


      Any questions, comments, or ideas? Let us know below. We enjoy hearing from our readers and will get back to you when we can. For regular tips on live streaming and exclusive offers, feel free to join our LinkedIn group. Thanks for reading, and as always, best of luck with your live streams!

      author avatar

      Max Wilbert

      Max Wilbert is a passionate writer, live streaming practitioner, and has strong expertise in the video streaming industry.

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