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The Many Meanings of E-CDN: Viewing the Options
When it comes to using enterprise content delivery networks to stream video, companies face the choice of cloud, in-house CDN, or hybrid.

In the not-too-distant past, the world of streaming content delivery was neatly bifurcated: you’d either do it yourself or use a content delivery network (CDN). Then came the cloud, followed rapidly by hybrid content delivery solutions, which combine the best of the cloud and on-premises content caches and network intelligence for internal delivery.

Nowhere has this shift from two options to many been more apparent than in the enterprise arena. In the past, businesses might have used their own internal network for unicast streaming delivery -- or, for a rare few, multicast delivery -- but they still had the issue of mobile delivery to road warriors, or even delivery to key customers that need to be connected to live video streams, which could easily overwhelm the virtual private network (VPN) bandwidth enterprises use to connect remote offices or a sales force in the field.

Today, however, the enterprise content delivery network (E-CDN) is a term that has as many different meanings as it does opportunities. From cloud-only E-CDNs to hybrid solutions and even, in some cases, a traditional content delivery network built out internally on the enterprise network, the E-CDN offers enterprise users the chance to deliver content to all its key stakeholders. Not only does an E-CDN work for video, but it is often also used to deliver software upgrades and applications to customers while simultaneously being used within the firewall to deliver data and media content.

The Cloud

One area of significant growth is the use of cloud-based delivery even across an enterprise’s remote offices and other key partner locations. While the cost-effectiveness of using an external CDN for internal delivery has always been suspect, the benefit of a cloud-based approach, according to its proponents, is the immediacy of standing up the video delivery service.

“Once a CEO decides to go video, the need is typically immediate,” says Robert Nunes, vice president of marketing at Kontiki. Nunes adds that, for this type of compelling need that generates “very aggressive timelines, many times a cloud solution is the only option.”

Nunes said that, beyond the immediacy, the ability to scale to even small offices is key.

“Cloud is also the best for addressing the need to reach every employee for medium to large enterprises,” Nunes says. “As the number of employees and locations grows, so does the value of cloud-based solutions. Hybrid solutions do not scale well because of cost, time and flexibility.”

I asked Nunes to elaborate on the concept that hybrid solutions do not scale well, a natural selling point for those who advocate for cloud-only solutions, but he said neither research nor parameter comparisons were readily available.

“Kontiki is focused on mid-middle market to large enterprise,” Nunes says. “We target knowledge workers that are highly distributed, relatively large in number, where the need for video communication is greater and the cost of including hardware is prohibitive. If we lose to a hybrid solution in this space, it is rare and typically due to a mandated, on-premise solution, driven by internal policies.”

Nunes also pointed to a survey that Kontiki does each year with the research and publishing firm Melcrum. On surface it emphasizes both the point Nunes is trying to make and my question of long-term cost scenarios between cloud and hybrid solutions.

“E-CDN is most directly relevant to the business by providing a high quality experience, which is reflected in prior-year reports,” Nunes says, noting that, in the 2013 report, webcasting was considered the most important issue, “because live is the most difficult video delivery problem to solve for what is typically a business critical event, such as the CEO ‘all hands’ meeting”.

We’ll look at the initial 2014 survey results later in this article, but let’s now shift back to the more traditional E-CDN approach.

In-House E-CDNs

The origins of E-CDNs go almost as far back as traditional CDNs. The “big iron” companies such as Cisco and Juniper offered Quality of Service (QoS) across leased-line infrastructures, from traditional “thin line” telephony-based data lines such as ISDN to packet-based ATM and, eventually, Metro Ethernet, and multiple-protocol solutions, including MPLS. Typically quality of service could be defined in software used to program the routers used by large enterprise and telecom service providers; Cisco’s IOS and Juniper’s JunOS are two examples.

Yet the traditional QoS solution only worked when video content flowed across the enterprise network in a video-centric protocol, from RTP/RTSP and RTMP to the more traditional H.264 videoconferencing and telepresence offerings made by Cisco, LifeSize, and Polycom. We covered some of the advancements in enterprise videoconferencing and telepresence in the October/November 2013 issue of Streaming Media (http://go2sm.com/videoconferencing).

The advent of adaptive bitrate (ABR) and HTTP-based media delivery changed the QoS game for enterprise video delivery. While many enterprise IT organizations initially sought to retain QoS for live streams behind the firewall, communications departments were forced to support HTTP-based delivery to executives’ iPad and iPhone devices. This dual requirement led to the use of hybrid and cloud solutions, but the big iron companies have come back to offer in-house solutions that address both needs for enterprises that want to control the end-to-end solution.

One such offering is Cisco’s VideoScape solution set, which is largely based on its acquisition of Inlet Technologies’ Armada, Spinnaker, and other product lines. The VideoScape offering stands alone from the overall Cisco ECDS (Enterprise Content Delivery System) offerings, the latter of which are based on a two-appliance solution that uses a “virtual blade with versatile capabilities that can deliver streamed and on-demand video to end users on” smartphones, tablets and even digital signage or over-the-top devices. Cisco offers a demonstration site that also contains a block diagram of a typical VideoScape solution:

For the ECDS approach, which is fairly straightforward, a “content acquirer” appliance receives on-demand or live streaming content from the origin server (including Adobe Media Server or Wowza Streaming Engine) and then passes it on to “service engines” at branch offices. Ideally, the content acquirer appliance and origin server are on the same corporate LAN, while the content-aware router at that location negotiates delivery of requested content to the branch offices across the corporate wide area network. For the VideoScape solution set, however, origin servers can sit in the cloud and then pass content on to a distribution suite, whether it’s an external or internal CDN or a portal/publishing point.

As with a traditional CDN, on-demand content can be cached at the branch office service engines, so that WAN traffic is reserved for more mission-critical data delivery or for live streaming events.

The challenge for all-internal video delivery or E-CDN buildouts continues to be the need to integrate iOS (non-Flash) video consumption with Android, Mac, and Windows devices.

Hybrid

If in-house E-CDNs sit on one end of the enterprise video delivery spectrum and cloud solutions sit on the opposite end, the middle ground is occupied by hybrid solutions.

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