What is a Content Delivery Network?

Updated: May 02, 2023

Series of videos being played in a network to illustrate a Content Delivery Network

As the name implies, a content delivery network (CDN) is an efficient way to connect viewers to internet content such as videos, images, HTML pages and more. It’s a cloud-based system that works by using a group (or network) of servers, which are physically located in different geographic areas, to give viewers easier and faster access to programming. We’re going to review two ways CDNs work, caching and cloud storage.

Our first focus is on the CDN caching model. Let’s say Mike, who lives in your viewing area, wants to watch last night’s city commission meeting on his phone. Turns out he’s the first person to request that program. When he does, the content delivery system finds it on your channel’s server (called the origin server) and loads it into cache memory on a nearby edge server. Cache memory provides online viewers faster access to the content. As long as that program remains cached, the content delivery system can minimize latency and deliver that video to other viewers even quicker.

But wait, something crazy happened at the meeting – and now your video is going viral, getting attention from viewers across the country. There’s no way your local network can handle this kind of traffic! Luckily, you have a CDN. As people access your content, multiple servers in various regions cache that video, ensuring a better viewing experience for your expanding online audience.

Why is this important? Nobody wants to wait for videos to load. How many times have you moved on from a site because loading the information took too long? Slow-loading content can even damage your site’s search engine ranking. A CDN helps load your content quickly, so potential viewers don’t click away.

From an operations standpoint, a CDN can manage more traffic than your origin server, which means more content availability and better reliability for your online viewers. That can also mean lower costs for your station, because you don’t need to pay for excessive bandwidth to handle potential content traffic spikes. CDNs also provide a layer of security against DoS and DDoS “denial of service” attacks that are designed to crash a website with heavy traffic loads.  

Cloud storage is another CDN approach for providing smooth streaming to viewers. In this case, content is automatically uploaded to the cloud, so your origin server isn’t part of the VOD process. That means no dealing with multiple copies of the same content taking up space on your server, which is needed for adaptive bit rate streaming, and no taxing viewer traffic taking up your station’s bandwidth. Cloud storage also adds a security benefit – viewers are not accessing content directly from your in-house equipment, which means you don’t need to open ports in your firewall and exposure your system to potential threats.

Some top content delivery network service providers include:

1) Google Cloud CDN

No surprise here, it’s one of several Google Cloud services built on the network behind YouTube and the Google search engine.

2) Amazon CloudFront

Amazon has its own list of cloud-based services under its Amazon Web Services (AWS) umbrella, including its CloudFront CDN.

3) Microsoft Azure CDN

Best known for its computer software, Microsoft also maintains a worldwide CDN.

4) Akamai

With an expansive network of servers, Akamai provides a significant amount of all internet traffic, not just video.

5) Cablecast

That’s right, Cablecast offers both caching and cloud storage options for your streaming content delivery that are easy to use and seamlessly integrated with the Cablecast Automation platform. The Cablecast platform works through AWS, so it reliably delivers top performance for your viewers. Get more details here.

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