So you’ve committed to a video strategy for sharing your content. Let’s say that you plan to produce video content for online distribution via multiple channels. You now face a crucial question around video distribution: What’s the best way to get your content in front of the maximum number of viewers possible? And that‘s where a live streaming CDN comes in!
As you’re likely aware, there are many possible live streaming solutions. Among the many elements to consider is video marketing, a subject we’ve covered in detail in other blog articles. You also need to consider the technical elements of content distribution. Among these technical considerations is the need to ensure you can deliver your content quickly and effectively to a widely distributed audience.
Buffering, slowdowns, stream interruptions, and other glitches can ruin an otherwise excellent video production. On the other hand, a smooth, flawless streaming experience allows you to share your content and business in the best possible light. Choosing the right live streaming CDN can make all the difference in addressing these elements (and others).
In general, your chosen online video platform for hosting your video content gives you access to a particular live streaming CDN (content delivery network). If you’re new to live broadcasting, you might not yet understand the role of a live streaming CDN. In this article, our goal is to break down CDN basics and the benefits of using a live streaming CDN. We’ll also review some of the best live streaming CDNs available today.
Let’s start with a closer look at how CDNs work in the first place!
What is a CDN?
Before we can understand live streaming CDNs, let’s review the basic structure of the internet. The internet relies on a server-client relationship. As you know, when you visit a website, you first type the address into your web browser. This makes you the client in this dynamic, and the internet routes your request for the website to a server.
So what is a server? Simply put, a server is a computer that is continually connected to the internet for the purposes of delivering content to clients. Essentially, a server exists in several locations that contain a given website on its storage drives. When you type in a URL, these servers deliver you the code that makes up that website. From there, your web browser displays that website to you.
CDN: what it is and how it works
The term CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. A CDN exists to deliver content via the internet. This content can include text, images, video, and much more.
However, CDNs are most often used to distribute large files. This is where the network comes into play. A CDN is composed of a network of servers located around the world. By having hundreds or thousands of access points across a wide region, a CDN can connect viewers to content located close to their actual location.
So why is this important? In the first place, the internet isn’t automatic and instantaneous. In other words, the speed at which content reaches your computer or mobile device doesn’t depend only on your connection speed. Content delivery speeds are also determined by the number of “jumps” that content has to make en route. If an old and/or distant server is the host, for example, web content on that server may load very slowly.
All that said, it’s important to know that high-quality CDN can revolutionize and streamline that entire process, leaving you to focus on creating high-quality content for your viewers!
What are the benefits of a live streaming CDN?
As we describe above, a CDN allows you to use a widely distributed network of live streaming servers for your content. The main benefit to this approach is increased access speeds on the part of viewers. Typically, viewers who request content from a CDN are automatically routed to the closest server. This is also called the “edge” server. A viewer’s IP address generally dictates the server to which they’re directed.
Additional distance between a given server and the user adds more potential latency (i.e., lag time) to the internet connection. In other words, a live streaming CDN makes streaming go more smoothly for all viewres. Overall, a top-tier CDN reduces buffering and maximizes quality of live video streaming.
Other benefits to using a live streaming CDN include increased resilience and scalability. Imagine that you’re live streaming from a single server and suddenly your content goes viral. All at once, ten thousand people request data from your server. This overloads your machine, causing it to crash. At this point, no one can access your stream. This is a disaster scenario for video distribution, especially in the case of monetized streams.
With a live streaming CDN, the server network distributes loads like this across dozens, hundreds, or thousands of servers. That means that video content can be reliably delivered to thousands or even millions of viewers at once without service interruptions. For professionals, this sort of reliability is essential.
An additional benefit is that live streaming CDNs reduce costs and technical overhead. Yes, it is possible to build your own global network of servers to deliver your content to users. However, this requires a great deal of expense (hardware, electric costs, maintenance, etc.) and a dedicated, round-the-clock staff.
By using a streaming solution already integrated with a CDN, you’re renting access to a global network of high-performance and professionally-built servers. Access to high-quality CDNs is one reason that the Hardware as a Service (HaaS) business model has become increasingly popular. Individual users, businesses, enterprises, and other organizations can all gain access to speed, reliability, security, performance, and more—without the attendant costs.
How to use live streaming CDNS for content delivery
With the explosion of internet content in general, and video content specifically, there are many CDNs that provide video distribution services today.
Each CDN has a different focus and strengths. Some focus on specific geographic regions, or specialize in a different type of content. For example, Cloudfront CDN might not be the best option for streaming live video on a website. Cloudflare is another popular CDN, but it does not cache multimedia files by default.
Let’s take a look at a few of the more popular live streaming CDNs on the market.
AWS stands for Amazon Web Services. CloudFront is the CDN offering part of this service. CloudFront specializes in websites, video content, and other web assets. To deliver content to end users with lower latency, Amazon CloudFront uses a global network of 134 Points of Presence (123 Edge Locations and 11 Regional Edge Caches) in 61 cities across 28 countries. *Note that CloudFront has servers in 28 countries, compared to 130 countries when you look at Akamai. This can have an impact of the performance of your live stream especially if you are hosting a global event.
Cloudfront tend to be 14% slower than Akamai. This is useful information to consider for smooth and high performing delivery of your OTT video content.
Best known as a cell phone service provider, digital media company Verizon also offers CDN services via its Edgecast network. With 20 Terabits of capacity and 95 nodes located around the world, this CDN is quite large. However, it is still smaller than Akamai’s CDN, though Edgecast has expanded more than 340% in the last 2.5 years.
Verizon offers a live streaming video solution natively via their Digital Media Services division. This service is aimed at major enterprise users with large budgets.
Among the most top-tier and global CDNs is Akamai. A behemoth in the industry, Akamai delivers between 15-30% of all web traffic. A whopping 96 out of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. rely on Akamai for content delivery. Major Akamai customers include Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Healthcare.gov.
Akamai’s Content Delivery Network describes itself as the most pervasive, highly-distributed content delivery network (CDN). Indeed, Akamai’s CDN has more than 240,000 servers in over 130 countries and within more than 1,700 networks around the world. This makes Akamai the largest single CDN in the world. Collectively, this infrastructure delivers 30 Terabits of data per second.
One review site states that Akamai is “hands down the best CDN available if you have the budget.” Luckily for DaCast users, video distribution via the Akamai CDN is included in the highly affordable DaCast video streaming package. If you’d like more details on the cost of DaCast services, you can check out our pricing plans for yourself.
How to access a powerful live streaming CDN
There are many different ways to get access to a live streaming CDN. For one, you could set up a deal yourself. Major CDN customers generally work with petabytes of data and spend tens of thousands of dollars on bandwidth.
However, most CDNs now offer pay-as-you-go contracts for smaller users. These are usually billed for bandwidth on a per-GB basis. If you have video files residing on your own servers, you can connect this server to a live streaming CDN if you expect major traffic.
However, when we’re dealing with live streaming video distribution, this topic becomes more complicated. The technical setup required to configure a CDN for use with live streaming video is relatively complex. It’s not as simple as pointing to a file and saying “distribute this.”
In recent years, more CDNs are making it fairly simple to distribute video content via live streaming over their network. Still, for ease of use, the best way to get access to a powerful live streaming CDN is via your video streaming platform.
Choosing the right OVP with a powerful live streaming CDN
For most broadcasters (including with DaCast), the online video platform (OVP) they select integrates a live streaming CDN into its platform. As noted above, working directly with a CDN to distribute your content generally doesn’t make sense unless you’re an enterprise.
Instead, we recommend taking the time to research and choose the right video host that offers a single service solution. A single platform with a monthly fee (like DaCast) can handle many or all of your needs in-house. These might include video hosting, video distribution and CDN services, API access, video player, monetization, and more. Since you’re depending on a single service to do all of these things, choosing the right video hosting platform goes a long way.
We recommend looking for a video hosting service that integrates a top-tier CDN. This will ensure maximum reliability and scaleability for your online video distribution. Selecting the right online video platform is a complex process. You’ll want to do a good amount of research before committing to a given platform.
For example, you can consider the following questions:
- Will you distribute live streaming or on-demand video, or both?
- In which file formats will you distribute your content?
- How many user-hours do you expect to require? (User-hours, sometimes called viewer-hours, are a simple calculation of view duration. To get user-hours, multiply the number of viewers by the average duration of time each viewer will watch). *For this question, using a calculator like this one can be very helpful.
- How much do you expect to grow in the future?
- Do you need specific features for monetization or security?
- In which geographic locations do the majority of your viewers reside?
- What’s your budget?
Answering these questions will go a long way toward helping you to decide which platform makes the most sense for you.
As this article highlights, online video distribution can be challenging and complex. Broadcasters have to contend with content licensing, marketing, and engaging audiences. They also have to consider technical details (e.g., compression and data formats).
Using a live streaming CDN can afford you peace of mind; it ensures that your content never encounters major speed bumps or service disruptions due to server overload. Load balancing is a critical part of planning for success in any digital enterprise. Using a powerful live streaming CDN is the go-to load balancing method for online video.
We hope this article has helped you understand CDNs, how they function, and who some of the top players in the industry are. Do you use a live streaming CDN? What’s your experience been like? Any questions about a specific live streaming CDNs? Let us know in the comment section below! We really enjoy hearing from our readers, and we know that broadcasters often have great information to share.
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Thanks for reading and, as always, good luck with your live streaming!
By Max Wilbert.