Cisco says it is involved in a number of initiatives to accelerate the move to content delivery network (CDN) federations, including running a CDN federation pilot with several global service providers.

Scott Puopolo, vice president at Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, defines a CDN federation as a multi-footprint, open CDN built from resources owned and operated by autonomous members. CDN federations will allow service providers to provide Internet-wide CDN services rather than being limited to the reach of their own networks.

But isn’t this essentially what existing CDNs like Akamai and Limelight Networks already do?

Puopolo says yes, but, video content owners and service providers are exploring CDN federations in response to the complexity of transporting video and applications as opposed to a pure IP transit relationship or a peering relationship with a traditional, global CDN provider.

One benefit of a CDN federation created by participating service providers is that content can be cached closer to the end customers, which increases quality of service (QoS). A big potential benefit for service providers is the prospect of making more money from their networks.

Content providers would like their video to reach viewers with high QoS, but it’s too cumbersome to negotiate separate transit deals with myriad last-mile providers. "That was the genesis of the CDN federation," explains Puopolo. "Over the course of nine months, we’ve been working with five service providers on a pilot: KDDI, BT, Telecom Italia, Orange and SFR."

Cisco has helped complete the first CDN interconnect, cross-linking KDDI in Japan to Telecom Italia, and it continues to work with service providers to test three federation topologies:

  1. The interconnectivity between a prime CDN to a single subcontractor CDN;
  2. A prime CDN sending to two subcontractor CDNs; and
  3. A prime CDN sending to a Tier 1 subcontractor CDN, which in turn sends to a Tier 2 subcontractor.

Cisco’s role in the pilot is to bring service providers together and to publish the results. "We’ve been inundated with requests from all over the world to participate," Puopolo says.

As far as making money from a CDN federation, service providers can charge for caching, analytics, transcoding, authentication and back-office services. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to figure out the business model for a CDN federation.

"What capabilities will the federation have centrally, rather than with each relevant company?" asks Puopolo. "If service providers can simplify the contractual and management process, then they actually have a very viable competitor to the traditional, global CDN companies."

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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