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Why CDNs Are Critical to Future of R&E Networks, Big Data and the Internet

Netflix has announced that they are deploying their own Content Delivery Network (CDN) for delivery of their video streams to Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) around the world.

More importantly they are making the hardware and software design of their CDN servers freely available. That means any network can deploy Netflix CDN boxes deep into their network to significantly reduce traffic volumes and improve performance for users. In addition to the Netflix announcement the IETF has started up a working group called CDNi which is looking at developing standards for interconnection and distribution of CDN networks globally.

These initiatives will have a significant impact for R&E networks in terms of Big Data, ensuring the Internet remains open and for creating new revenue opportunities. It is not only movies and commercial web sites that benefit from CDN networks. Any large data set that requires wide distribution, especially to mobile wireless devices can benefit from a CDN network. The high energy physics LHCONE network is a good example of a CDN network designed for a specific big data application. But there are many other large data sets in genomics, astronomy, social sciences, etc that could benefit from a generalized R&E CDN facility. Researchers and educators, like everybody else, want access to their data any time, any place and on any device. CDNs are critical to realizing such a vision.

To date CDN facilities have not been critical for R&E networks because of the ample bandwidth, but as more and more users are accessing the R&E networks through wireless connection, or through the commercial Internet (i.e. for Citizen Science or courseware applications), performance and throughput can be significantly enhanced with a CDN network. It is not only receiving content and data that CDN networks are important, but also for delivering content to the global Internet community. Unfortunately most commercial CDN networks do not carry research data or any type of public content such as courseware, public service multimedia, etc. That is why it is important that R&E networks deploy their own CDN networks, and like other CDNs deliver this content to commercial ISPs at IXPs and other facilities. In countries like Canada delivering content from small Canadian multimedia businesses and other organizations to fellow Canadians and the global community is also an important role for R&E CDN networks.

Deploying a CDN network could also be a revenue opportunity for R&E networks in delivering content to commercial ISPs and community networks at IXPs on behalf of public broadcasters, museums, and other public entities. Public broadcasters such as PBS, CBC, TVO, BBC, etc. are seriously looking at using OTT (Over The Top) distribution networks (e.g. Netflix) for their future direction. R&E networks could significantly reduce costs for these public broadcasters (and yet still earn significant revenue for the R&E network) in delivering this public content to the global community.

Working in partnership with community network initiatives, such as UCAN, Gig.U and public supported IXPs could be mutually beneficial for both R&E CDN networks and IXPs. A good example, as I mentioned in a previous blog the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) is working with regional R&E networks to help deploy community IXPs with integrated support for multiple CDN suppliers. BCnet is another example which has deployed IXPs in small communities and is now looking at deploying CDN services to these IXPs as well.

NORDUnet and AARNet are also well positioned to be global players in deploying public CDN networks and insuring the communities they serve have a global voice for their content. Both networks have major peering connections at a number of major international IXPs. Initially these connections were intended to reduce costs of Internet transit, but in the longer run they may serve as an important infrastructure for delivering Nordic and Australian data and content to the world.

Finally the most important aspect of R&E CDN networks is that they can be designed to be powered solely by renewable energy. The beauty of CDN architectures is that users can be redirected to an alternate CDN node if the local node is out of service for one reason or another. Often CDN networks also do redirection if a user requests content that is not available in the local cache. So, for example, if a local node is powered by a wind mill, and it is a windless day, users can be redirected to another nearby CDN node. As opposed to other follow the sun/follow the wind architectures there is no need to transfer large data files with a CDN network. The Greenstar network demonstrated this capability where they can transfer a live HD video stream from one Greenstar node to another, anywhere in the world without a single glitch in the video stream.

Various estimates suggest that CDN networks already deliver over 40% of world’s Internet traffic. On some networks CDN content is now approaching 90% of traffic volumes in peak times. It is time R&E networks take a leadership role to ensure that there remains a public CDN facility, and that carriers do not entirely capture and lock this market inside their walled gardens. We are already seeing this happen with recent initiatives from Verizon and Comcast and ongoing disputes with Level 3 etc.

By Bill St. Arnaud , Green IT Networking Consultant

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