What is a Multi-CDN Solution? CDN Strategies for Real Time Streaming Performance

By Emily Krings

6 Min Read

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Emily Krings

Emily is a strategic content writer and story teller. She specializes in helping businesses create blog content that connects with their audience.

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    Delivering high-quality video content to a specific audience is the goal of many professional broadcasters. Live streaming CDNs play a major role in optimizing delivery to maintain the quality of video files as they are transported to viewers around the world.

    A multi-CDN is a powerful technology setup that takes the benefits of CDNs to the next level.

    In this post, we’re going to discuss the ins and outs of multi-CDNs for live streaming. We will cover what that technology is and how it works. We’ll cover the benefits of leveraging a multi-CDN architecture and how broadcasters can implement it in their own workflows.

    To get started, we are going to quickly review what a CDN is and why it is important to broadcasters.

    Table of Contents

    • What is a CDN?
    • What is a Multi-CDN?
    • Why Use a Multi-CDN Architecture?
    • Who Needs a Multi-CDN?
    • How is a Multi-CDN Implemented?
    • Final Thoughts

    What is a CDN?

    CDN Content Delivery Network
    CDNs are essential to live streaming at the professional level.

    As a refresher, a content delivery network (CDN) is a collection of servers that are strategically placed across a geographic region to deliver digital media to end-users. Video content delivery networks can also be referred to as “content distribution networks.” CDNs can be used to deliver live streams and other types of digital media.

    CDNs are typically built of a collection of data centers that are spread around the world. Each server is strategically placed so that the video signal can travel quickly and easily from one stop to the next to get to the viewer with the lowest latency possible. The locations of the servers are called Points of Presence, or PoPs for short.

    While traditional CDNs use physical servers, some CDN providers use an entirely digital approach that uses a network of computers instead. These are called Edge servers, and they are becoming more popular.

    The purpose of live streaming CDNs is to shorten the length that a video has to travel in order to maintain the quality and reduce buffering.

    For example, streaming a video that originates in Miami to a viewer in San Diego is a bit far. However, with strategically placed servers, the video could travel through data centers in Atlanta, Nashville, Albuquerque, and Phoenix. The distance between each of the servers is shorter, so it is easier to maintain the quality as the signal jumps from one location to the next.

    What is a Multi-CDN?

    A multi-CDN is a strategy that combines the resources of multiple CDN providers. The resources of each provider are funneled into a single network to make it accessible to broadcasting professionals.

    No single CDN has universal coverage, so combining the resources of multiple providers allows broadcasters to achieve reliable delivery with more widespread coverage. Using a multi-CDN architecture also increases your PoPs.

    With more coverage, your video can reach new locations. It also helps to provide backup support in the event that the primary provider’s servers get congested or go down.

    Why Use a Multi-CDN Architecture?

    Multi-CDN architecture
    Multi-CDN architectures are a great tool for elevating the professional streaming experience.

    CDNs are inherently valuable to broadcasters, and multi-CDNs take the value to the next level. Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits of incorporating a multi-CDN strategy in your streaming setup.

    Improved Video Quality

    With more PoPs it is easier to maintain the quality of your streams since the signal doesn’t have to travel as far of a distance. This helps to maintain the optimal video quality and reduce buffering and lagging.

    These improvements are particularly valuable for live streams and virtual events that encourage viewer participation.

    Reliable Delivery

    If you are hosting a live streaming event, especially one that your audience is paying for, you want to ensure reliable playback. When you rely on multiple CDNs, you can rest assured that you have backup options in the event that one CDN experiences congestion, blackouts, or network crashes.

    Expanded Reach

    By working with multiple CDNs, you open up the potential of accessing servers in new locations. For example, one CDN might have the majority of its servers concentrated in North and South America, and another might have servers spread around Europe and Asia. By combining the two, you can reach more viewers in more countries.

    Increased Capacity

    Multi-CDNs provide scalable support for streaming to growing audiences. Naturally, a multi-CDN architecture provides access to more servers than a single CDN provider which increases the capacity for viewers.

    With more servers, a broadcast can be delivered to a greater number of people without bogging down the network.

    International Streaming

    If you have an international audience, using a multi-CDN strategy will certainly come in handy. As we mentioned, more servers in more countries help you to reach more viewers. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Multi-CDN strategies are also very important when it comes to streaming to viewers in China. Not all CDNs have licensing to bypass the Great Firewall or to have PoPs in China, so by adding one that does to your multi-CDN setup, your company can tap into a Chinese audience.

    Enhanced Security 

    Another major perk of using a multi-CDN setup is that it enhances the security of your streaming setup. If one CDN provider has a security breach, the alternate CDN provider can kick in and continue the secure streaming experience. Broadcasters can rest assured knowing that they have backup security options.

    Multi-CDNs that have a multi-authoritative DNS are an even more secure option.

    No Vendor Lock-In

    Vendor lock-in is a very real issue for some businesses. This is when loyalty to a specific vendor becomes an inconvenience at a later time. For example, if you’ve built your system around one vendor and circumstances become unfavorable, it can be difficult to end the partnership and move on to the next since your operations rely on them.

    Using a multi-CDN helps to avoid vendor lock-in since you’re equipping your streaming setup with multiple options from the start.

    Who Needs a Multi-CDN?

    Multi-CDNs are more useful in some use cases than in others. Broadcasters who are distributing content to a large group of people would certainly benefit from a multi-CDN. The same applies to broadcasters with a global audience, especially those with viewers in the most remote parts of the world.

    On the flip side, a multi-CDN is less important for an organization that is simply distributing video content to a small, internal audience. A multi-CDN would be a plus, but it is not required.

    While those we’ve identified would value from a multi-CDN, they may not need to build one themselves. Most broadcasters can get away with using a multi-CDN that is provided by their chosen streaming solution. This approach eliminates any need for technical know-how.

    However, companies that provide streaming hosting to other broadcasters are wise to incorporate a multi-CDN to elevate their user experience and to guarantee high-quality streaming for their users’ viewers.

    How is a Multi-CDN Implemented?

    In order to implement a multi-CDN strategy, you must build partnerships with two or more CDN providers. Look for providers that have PoPs near your target audience. Also, look into the costs for each to make sure they fit into your budget.

    You can check out our CDN provider comparison post to see the features and pricing of the top options on the market.

    Once you’ve chosen your CDN providers, you must prepare your site. You can prepare your site by setting up your own origin. To do so, you’ll need to employ the help of a third-party origin storage service. Consider using cloud storage for your origin.

    You also must work out the details related to the features you want your multi-CDN architecture to have and set up your caching headers. As you set up your caching requirements, consider the type of traffic your multi-CDN will be handling.

    Make sure you conduct test runs before your officially launch your multi-CDN platform so you can ensure that it is running as smoothly as possible.

    As you navigate this process, there are some best practices to keep in mind. These include:

    • Group content by type to streamline traffic distribution 
    • Make sure to choose providers that compliment one another
    • Leverage a CDN stacking structure to consolidate and streamline requests
    • Keep your cache headers consistent to avoid hiccups in your system
    • Maintain consistency with hashing to conserve bandwidth 
    • Create a consistent monitoring strategy to assess CDN performance
    • Take advantage of third-party tools
    • Prioritize security by choosing a provider with a multi-authoritative DNS

    If you are implementing a multi-CDN into your live streaming platform or self-hosted streaming setup, please note that this will likely be costly. 

    Accessing a Multi-CDN Setup via an OVP

    online video platform
    Many top OVPs partner with leading CDNs to provide a seamless user experience.

    One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to implement a multi-CDN strategy is to lean into the support of an online video platform (OVP). Many online video platforms partner with CDNs so that their users don’t have to worry about setting up a multi-CDN structure themselves. This is the option that most professional broadcasters go with.

    Dacast, for example, currently has partnerships with Limelight and Akamai. We are developing a multi-CDN platform that will allow our users to implement a multi-CDN strategy simply by streaming on our platform. 

    Final Thoughts

    Using a multi-CDN is a great way to optimize your content delivery in terms of quality and reach. Implementing this sort of delivery strategy can improve the streaming experience for broadcasters and viewers, alike.

    As more online video platforms adopt multi-CDN strategies, it will continue to become easier for broadcasters to access this technology.

    Looking for an online video platform with reliable content delivery? Dacast could be the option for you. Our unified streaming solution supports live and on-demand video streaming for professional broadcasters. The Dacast platform is equipped with a variety of professional tools, including white-label streaming, video monetization, top-tier security, API access, and more.

    You can try Dacast risk-free for 14-day by signing up for our free trial. All you have to do to get started is create an account, and you can be streaming in no time at all. No credit card or long-term contracts are required.

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    author avatar

    Emily Krings

    Emily is a strategic content writer and story teller. She specializes in helping businesses create blog content that connects with their audience.

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