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12 September 2019

Edgeware claims agnostic CDN first, lines up Conviva in crosshairs

Multi-CDN strategies are increasingly popular mechanisms for saving bandwidth and increasing video QoE, particularly in telco circles, which in turn has seen the rise of intelligent CDN switching techniques. Load balancing is by no means a new phenomenon, which is why the launch of a new service from Swedish vendor Edgeware called StreamPilot raised some eyebrows – claiming the industry’s first multi-CDN control kit agnostic of client, media format or CDN.

CDN technologies today are typically either client-based, DNS-based or manifest-based, and a drawback is that proprietary CDN functions do not work in multi-CDN environments. So, by controlling every session between the client and CDN, StreamPilot promises solid QoE as well as the allure of additional monetization capabilities.

In conversation with Edgeware CEO Karl Thedéen and co-founder Kalle Henriksson this week, we immediately mentioned how Edgeware has been talking about CDN switching for years, being one of the key components of its distributed virtualized delivery network. “Switching has been around for a long time but the next stage is optimizing sessions – and this is happening now,” said Thedéen, boasting how StreamPilot has pioneered a new method of CDN switching which has never been done before.

The independent nature of Edgeware’s SaaS-based StreamPilot platform is achieved by inserting code into the control plane between the client and the CDN, a technique that Thedeen compared to software-defined networking (SDN), a common network configuration technology. By placing StreamPilot in the control plane, it opens up opportunities like gathering insights from video sessions to test new concepts, measure outcomes, insert blackouts, enforce rights and block illegal distribution.

StreamPilot is much more than a CDN switcher; the patent-pending technology is being marketed as a product for measuring, managing and monetizing video all in one. That could have serious consequences for vendors in fields from analytics to ad insertion, with StreamPilot enabling a whole host of features.

“We use HTTP redirect so that the client always comes back to StreamPilot and it can do QAM and IP simultaneously,” added Thedéen, noting the phenomenal growth of OTT video traffic as the reason for launching StreamPilot.

One slide in Thedéen’s presentation referenced Conviva’s client-based analytics technology as one rival system with limitations when compared with StreamPilot’s agnostic approach, among others. Surprised to see Conviva’s name listed as an Edgeware competitor, we asked if Edgeware wanted to become a serious analytics company given its apparent unique position. “We are tied between both the analytics part and moving clients between CDNs. Our position means we have immediate control of integration, collecting data on the server side whereas Conviva selects client side,” said Thedéen. He mentioned working closely with customers to develop a dashboard with open APIs, along with a sprinkling of AI-based algorithms for dynamically switching between CDNs.

The conversation broadened, discussing our coverage from last week of two companies attacking the CDN market from contrasting angles; Synamedia via its intelligent encoding algorithms and start-up Eluvio from a more ambitious overlay network using technology leaning on P2P and blockchain-based techniques. Does this signal a trend of reduced reliance on CDNs and bad news for the likes of Edgeware? “These blockchain delivery methods are just a bunch of buzzwords. P2P can never completely replace CDN selection and we remain skeptical about P2P because of the risks associated with placing content at the edge of the network. Still there is no killer P2P player today,” defended Thedéen.

But surely if business was booming in Edgeware’s traditional cache server market, then diversifying revenue streams to the extent of acquiring a subtitling company for $0.9 million would hardly be necessary? Thedéen noted that although he was a little skeptical regarding Edgeware’s purchase of Cavena Image Products back in January, the move was made based on Cavena’s large list of incumbent customers and its promising growth trajectory. Although viewed as a little unorthodox, Cavena drastically improves QoE for OTT video services with its optical character recognition technology (OCR), which converts subtitles from image formats to text formats.

We can’t criticize Edgeware for expanding outside its comfort zone and in fact applaud the diversification. Yet Thedéen assures us Edgeware is flourishing from the trend of multi-CDN usage, citing figures that 26% of companies in the broadcast and entertainment space are currently running multiple CDNs and this is on the rise, not just at traditional pay TV operator but telcos too. This is because telcos typically use between 5 and 15 different CDNs, according to Thedéen, whereas operators without their own infrastructure usually rely on two CDNs – increasing all the time across various regions.