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

multi-cdn solutions

Delivering high-quality video content performance 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 better live streaming performance. 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, what its architecture is, and why it is important to broadcasters for better performance.

Table of Contents

  • What is a CDN?
  • What is Multi-CDN?
  • Why Use a Multi-CDN Architecture?
  • Who Needs a Multi-CDN?
  • How is a Multi-CDN Implemented?
  • Pros and Cons of Multi-CDN
  • FAQs
  • 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. This is meant 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 this form of architecture is becoming more popular for better performance.

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 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. Combining the resources of multiple CDN 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 if 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. 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 performance. 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 CDN architecture, 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 and improve content performance.

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 performance.

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 architecture 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-CDN architecture is 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 architecture 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 for optimized performance. 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 multiple 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 platformMany 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.

Pros and Cons of Multi-CDNs

Here is a list of the advantages and disadvantages of using multi-CDNs.

Pros

  • Backup coverage: In case one CDN fails, other networks will pick up the task and make sure that streaming goes on smoothly.
  • Resilience in CDN performance: This means that in a multi-CDN architecture if one network fails, it does not affect other networks. In the event that more than one CDN has latency issues, they’ll be distributed in such a way that users will not experience a significant disturbance.
  • Better CDN performance: Multi-CDN will reduce the loading time when streaming videos and deliver faster website loading.
  • Reliability: This refers to the ability to provide consistent services and perform required functions. Multi-CDNs ensure that business networks are much more reliable than they would be with a single CDN, delivering better performance. This is because they have an increased number of servers to host and distribute content.

Cons

  • Can be expensive: A multi-CDN infrastructure can be costly as businesses will need multiple PoPs. 
  • Complex infrastructure: The multi-CDN architecture is complex and requires a lot more server-related resources for best performance. This could mean more software or hardware issues.  
  • Multiple vendors: Having multiple CDN service providers can be difficult to control and may even increase security risks.

FAQ

1. What is CDN in live streaming?

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers working together to store and distribute data quickly and reliably over the Internet. 

Since they’re spread out globally, CDNs can serve a bigger audience with greater efficiency than a single origin server or data center. For live streaming, this means reduced latency, better quality, and higher speed.

2. How does CDN improve performance?

CDNs improve the performance of streaming platforms by bringing cached data to a server that’s closest to the client.

This reduces both the latency and bandwidth required for video and audio content to reach the viewer. The result is that videos or pages load faster and there’s decreased bandwidth cost.

3. Why use multi-CDN?

Here are a few reasons to use a multi-CDN architecture:

  • Improved video quality in live streaming
  • To provide reliable playback of videos
  • To access servers in more locations and reach bigger audiences
  • A multi-CDN architecture provides access to more servers, ensuring capacity for more viewers.
  • Enhanced security of video streaming setup
  • To avoid vendor lock-in

4. What is the difference between CDN and multi-CDN?

A multi-CDN combines many CDNs from‌ different service providers, making it more effective than using a single CDN. 

Compared to multi-CDN, CDN performance is slower and less secure. The multi-CDN architecture further reduces the cost of streaming by reducing site loading speed, latency, and bandwidth.

5. What are the features of multi-CDN?

Some of the most prominent features of multi-CDN are:

  • Ability to find the most cost-effective routing
  • Real-time traffic switching 
  • Can switch traffic based on the target device or location
  • Full visibility of traffic across multiple CDNs

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 monetizationtop-tier securityAPI 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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Emily Krings

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