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2 September 2021

All aboard the CDN Alliance ship – destination great, direction unknown

As promised, the CDN Alliance has officially opened its doors to members this week, as a new non-profit industry organization hoping to be the guiding beacon for all things CDN. The phrase ‘all mouth, no trousers’ often springs to mind when we talk about technology alliances – so what’s different this time around, and besides, does the world really need another internet-based mouthpiece?

It is inherently difficult to criticize a group that is founded with nothing but good intentions, yet that is exactly what happened when news first emerged of the CDN Alliance’s impending arrival towards the end of July. These kneejerk reactions were most evident among professionals from technology vendors connected with content delivery networks, interpreting the CDN Alliance’s goals as some sort of personal affront, as a group seeking to allay problems that are not there. “Our businesses survived Covid-19 without you, so we can survive anything,” was the gist of these now forgotten LinkedIn comments.

Weeks later, we think the dust has settled and people will be willing to listen to what the CDN Alliance has to say, or rather what the CDN Alliance wants to say on behalf of its members.

Faultline spoke with the three CDN Alliance co-founders this week, Mark de Jong, Rico van Laatum and Thijs de Zoete, who echoed the message about striving to provide a clearer view of the entire CDN spectrum, not just media delivery, taking in pillars of bit delivery, dynamic delivery, media delivery, security, and edge.

Collaboration can only be a good thing, but it has to be done right. Throwing a bunch of people together with too much in common might not have enough legs to take things forward, while forcing contrasting corners of the industry into the same room might cause more confusion than good. The CDN Alliance aims to make progressive changes via discussion groups, study groups, working groups, events, networking, research and publications, evangelization, training, information and knowledge sharing, and there are more plans in the pipeline. Throw enough information at the wall and something is bound to stick eventually.

“The CDN industry has challenges, and it is hurting the industry by not having a voice. At the same time, we want information to be more known by the public – we want to be the interface between the consumer and business sides,” was one of the first messages to be articulated during our video call.

Immediately, this triggered a sense that the CDN Alliance might be biting off more than it can chew. Being the voice and the face of the B2B side of the industry is one thing, but trying to appease the consumer side at the same time is another matter entirely.

This triggered something of backtrack. While the CDN Alliance wants to eventually permeate the consumer sphere with CDN know-how, based on a pandemic of misinformation, the co-founders reiterated that the focus right now is on the organizations and the communities that comprise the CDN industry.

“The way the Dutch press approached the Akamai outages showed us that a lot of work is needed,” they voiced, which is something industry professionals the world over can likely empathize with.

Of course, the CDN Alliance has not been founded on a whim. The founders have entered extensive discussions with people across the industry, hearing about past hesitations about the need for such an alliance. That said, punching “CDN Alliance” into Google will bring you to an announcement from Akamai and Orange way back in 2012, which we are informed is not a proper alliance in the sense of a non-profit membership group, but in the sense of an exclusive cooperation between the two companies. So, not to be confused.

In the aim of being a “truly independent” body, the three co-founders explained that the CDN Alliance is launching without any initial members, so as not to create any wrong first impressions for would-be members. If AT&T and Akamai were on the platinum members list from day one, for example, that might deter a few heads, as we think it is important that the CDN Alliance attracts members from less traditional but still interconnected camps, such as P2P and blockchain-based players.

Naturally, the co-founders told us they are confident about a positive influx of members, with organizations being invited first to join for a fee, before opening up registration to individuals later this year.

“We don’t want to barge in and say here are the new rules, we want to be a supportive base layer driven by members. Some people misread the blog post from a few weeks ago, now we have made clear the actual goals,” they explained.

Those goals are, as a reminder, to connect, support and represent the CDN industry. That is easier said than done, which is why looking at the challenges aiming to be addressed provides a better picture of what lies ahead – covering availability, scalability, reliability, privacy, security, sustainability, interoperability, education, certification, and regulations.

That last point about regulations is an interesting one. Is the CDN Alliance planning to create enough momentum to pile pressure onto regulatory bodies? Eventually, perhaps, but baby steps are key.

“We want to facilitate fundamental changes that could lead to changes at government levels, but the alliance is not so much about applying pressure on governments directly. A lot of governments don’t know what a CDN does, so how can they comply if they don’t know what’s needed?” the co-founders explained.

This segued us nicely into standards, something of a taboo topic in the CDN ecosystem. “If we find a need or a requirement to work with standards bodies then we will, like the Internet Engineering Taskforce, but this again should be driven by members. We have no ambition of being a standards group, but will help push if this is what members want,” they added. “As an umbrella organization, we will hear questions like ‘why isn’t this particular technology standardized?’, so we can then raise that point across the industry and elevate it.”

Standards are on the agenda because of the way the public internet is so fundamentally reliant on CDNs, yet the siloed CDN industry looks almost draconian when compared side by side with telecoms. In response, it was added, “The CDN industry doesn’t need to be on par with telecoms, but we have learned that there is a chance of pushing standards.”

While it is too early to talk specific agendas (as this depends entirely on what type of members sign up), the CDN Alliance has been born on the notion of how running a CDN at scale is a highly complex exercise – often tying together various external suppliers, partners, and actors running in the public internet domain. It argues that complexity should not be an excuse for major CDN outages, particularly as over 50% of today’s internet traffic is handled by CDNs and underlying CDN technologies, as well as this same technology being responsible for mitigating the world’s largest cyberattacks.

Some CDN heavyweights would counterargue this by saying that uptime numbers are more than high enough, even with these recent high-profile faults that have left some of the world’s most visited sites momentarily in darkness.

For any interested parties, the CDN Alliance has categorized four types of members – those that market and/or sell CDN services, those that deliver CDN technology (hardware, software, services, data) or CDN components used to build content delivery networks, those that play a role as part of the ecosystem of CDN services or CDN technologies, and finally those that are using CDN services or CDN technologies