Limelight confesses CDN-P2P hybrids emerging at customers

Content delivery network technology at its core has been primed for disruption since its inception, yet traditional server-based infrastructures remain commonplace despite various attempts to dislodge the established CDN players. There were some notable anti-CDN marketing campaigns in and around this year’s IBC show, so it was imperative we got the other side of the story, as we explored how Limelight Networks plans to defend its slice of the delivery pie.

“We were in the right place for the second time this year at IBC,” was how Limelight Networks’ VP of Product Strategy, Steve Miller-Jones, started his story to Faultline, referring to the company’s recent migration from the Hall 14 ‘Future Zone’ over to Hall 5, where Limelight apparently feels much more at home huddled together with customers and partners.

Tucked up back in its comfort zone, Limelight was relatively quiet in Amsterdam, adding a handful of new features and enhancements which did little to excite us initially, although Miller-Jones assured us the integration of a new development called Live Push Ingest (LPI) into its video platform is a promising endeavor. LPI, a tool purpose-built for live streaming over HTTP, allows firms with live video streaming assets to send packaged HLS and DASH streams directly to the Limelight CDN – promising that customers have complete control over their live stream packaging workflow and bandwidth, including reporting.

“Customers want control right to the point they let go of the chunks,” emphasized Miller-Jones, boasting that Limelight has grown its points of presence by around 20 within the past year to reach 100 PoPs, building its global network to some 50Tbps of egress capacity and expanding its edge server capacity by more than 40% since the start of 2019.

But when a word like “exceptional” appears glaring in the headline of a company press release, eyebrows will be immediately raised – yet these figures don’t sound like a company under immense pressure.

The topic turned abruptly to analytics. Miller-Jones described an emerging battleground in the analytics space which Limelight is pushing into. Surely then it would be logical for an operator customer to drop a third-party network analytics vendor and have their CDN supplier handle analytics and delivery at the same time, in turn not just providing insights but actionability too? Things aren’t so straightforward. “Our customers like their independence. They don’t want their CDN provider having too much power,” noted Miller-Jones, providing a glimpse into one roadblock a CDN firm can find itself hitting along the path of diversification.

We noted how Synamedia recently made a brazen claim about removing the need for expensive third-party CDNs using its suite of recently upgraded Smart Rate Control algorithms. “I don’t think there is such a thing as an expensive CDN. You are buying a guarantee of the lowest rebuffering rate. There is plenty of talk about cloud-native CDNs, but these still have no infrastructure and are just marketing campaigns built on removing costs.”

On that note, we have been keeping a close eye on peer to peer (P2P) network progress, observing how some of the traditional CDN vendors are introducing P2P delivery as an integral part of their infrastructure. Limelight told us it sees P2P as entirely complementary to traditional served-based CDN delivery and had no qualms with telling us some of its existing customers are using Limelight CDN infrastructure supported by P2P technology. Miller-Jones could not name any names, although he noted how one drawback of P2P is that the technology does not dovetail well with the orchestration layer in his company’s CDN. Orchestration is the layer encompassing management functions knows as MANO (Management and Orchestration).

P2P CDNs come into their own on the scaling front for delivering popular live streams at peak times, particularly perhaps for events such as concerts where low latency is slightly less critical than for high profile live sports. They also score for delivery of localized content, such as regional events, where many of the consumers are located in relatively close proximity around the network edge. In such cases, P2P is more efficient and latencies lower because the extra distances of transmission around the edge are smaller.

By the same token, P2P is also ideally suited to symmetric two-way communication, allowing users near each other to exchange data both ways around the periphery of the network along links that would otherwise be underutilized. P2P transmission would therefore be adopted more readily and quickly if applications involving significant upstream communication became more prevalent. There are some signs of this happening with growing popularity of both PC-to-PC and most recently mobile video calling, which requires greater symmetry in bandwidth.

At the same time, as operators provide more upstream capacity, this will in turn stimulate applications that consume it, following the principle that bandwidth will be used if there.

Clearly Limelight is playing a game of keep your friends close but your enemies closer, increasingly seeing P2P technology as complementary while at the same time doubting its future credibility.