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Content Delivery Networks

Abhay Dubey
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Abhay Dubey
For many in India, who believe that the Internet is just a surfing, chat or email enabler, the Tsunami was an eye opener of sorts. It established itself as the most available and easily accessible two way communication channel as people posted bulletins on lost family members, hospitals became accessible by the Internet gateway and not just the limited entrance doorway and help in the form of donations poured in from all corners of the growing-smaller-by-the-minute world.

As the rest of the world has already begun to acknowledge, the Internet’s potential is not just limited to large-scale disasters. As Broadband communication grows in importance in India, the Internet and the World Wide Web will also, certainly, find an expanded user base. The country has about 25-30 million Internet subscribers, and the government is hoping to boost the number to 40 million by 2010 in a population of more than a billion.
What’s ironical is that when a large number of people visit a site, the site experiences performance degradation. Exasperated messages saying, “Why is the Internet so slow?” also abounded on the news bulletins, soon after the Tsunami tragedy. The reason? The server, which is powering the site, cannot handle more traffic than what it has been provisioned for. Thus, to have a good presence on the Web, service providers should plan for networks, which will deliver consistent high performance while ensuring that requirements such as scalability, robustness, reliability, affordability and manageability are also addressed Having said that, one needs to understand that to deliver a robust, reliable, high performance web site, companies will have to invest heavily in their own network infrastructure: load balancing for nonstop delivery, caching for speedy Web response, distributed, replicated servers to limit the impact of Internet congestion and managing upstream bandwidth. Companies have to strike a delicate balance between customer satisfaction and cost.

If every CTO decided to invest in his own infrastructure to manage Web site performance, the costs are likely to be prohibitively high bringing his ROI down substantially. So, does this mean that the much-awaited Broadband era is going to see a few isolated large players investing heavily to have a great Internet presence? If that were so, then would the Internet with its huge potential continue to remain the privilege of a few?

As more and more businesses are coming to realize, like Fox Broadcasting did during the telecast of American Idol- the show which attracted 26.5 million viewers, it would not be economically viable to provision for not-so-regular large spikes in Web traffic. They instead opted for a Content Delivery Network service provider that could scale on demand and deliver consistent performance of their Web site by using a distributed network of servers to deliver their Web pages and streaming media clips.

The very recent Tsunami tragedy saw Unicef’s Web site rising up to the occasion with videos and photographs of the affected areas as well as the rehabilitation efforts in the Tsunami torn areas being posted on their Web site. For Unicef, which is not in the business for profit, investing in infrastructure to service such unprecedented events would prove to be financially challenging. They too, have efficiently, turned to the services of a CDN provider, whose giving back policy has ensured that all of Unicef’s worldwide Web site visitors get an excellent performance from their Web site.

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