Content delivery is a complex challenge. These networks aren’t simple, especially when you tie in complementary technologies like WAN Optimization. Granted, it’s a cliché to point out that you want good customer service (everyone wants low prices and good service for everything), but in the case of CDNs, the level of customer service merits some vetting. Jolokia Networks, a provider of hosting, streaming and IT services, was seeking to improve delivery solutions for live and on-demand rich media, as well as dynamic content, for its customers. When Mark Pace, Jolokia’s CTO, began weighing his CDN options, customer service was one of the key selection criteria in choosing Internap’s CDN. “This is a hugely complex technology, and you need a partner who can help you when something goes wrong,” Pace said. He added that over the years, with Jolokia and at other companies, he’d tried other CDN services, and unless you’re a major customer, support could be sketchy. “I’ve been through Akamai, Limelight and Speedera,” he said. “I didn’t feel the love from them. We’re not a huge company, so we don’t get the red-carpet treatment.” In contrast, Pace lauds Internap for its responsive, individualized support. For a company like Jolokia, which resells the content delivery service, support is even more important, since Jolokia may be blamed for problems they have no control over. This is true as well when the problem is on the customer’s end. “You can’t just blame the customer for doing something wrong,” he said – which in fact happens all the time. “If it’s your fault, you need to own up to it. If it’s your customer’s fault, you provide evidence, and then you must work with them to help them fix it.” Pace recalled a customer having problems with video delivery due to network saturation issues. Internap helped with the post-mortem, and Jolokia was able to point to logs showing saturated routers. Then, they helped the customer tweak their encoder and set up QoS rules, transforming a frustrated customer into a happy, loyal one.
In most cases, the only real answer to this question is: “all of them.” Yet, even with HTML5 on the horizon, content delivery to a fragmented device landscape is incredibly difficult. (And don’t expect HTML5 to be a magic bullet.) “It’s mayhem out there with end devices,” Pace said. “You have to ensure quality delivery to everything from iPads to desktops to HDTVs. Each one relies on a different format.” Because of this, Pace advocates looking for a vendor that includes services like WAN optimization and transmuxing (transcode-multiplexing), which will convert formats on the fly. Even if you don’t have plans to deliver content to smartphones, TVs or Internet radios, you probably will in the very near future. Looking ahead to how end users will consume your content in two, three or five years could alter your buying decision.
Michael Kaiser-Nyman, founder and CEO of Impact Dialing, didn’t have the money to spend on high-dollar CDN services. Impact dialing provides auto-dialing services for polling, political campaigns and small business marketing. Obviously, ensuring high-quality voice streams is critical. As a new bootstrap startup, though, the company couldn’t devote the kind of resources necessary to sign up for traditional CDN services. At first, the company used Amazon’s CloudFront, but once they migrated their static servers away from AWS to WordPress host page.ly, the company decided to evaluate other options. Kaiser-Nyman learned of a free service through Cloudflare. “Basically, they become your DNS host,” Kaiser-Nyman said. “You move your DNS records to them, and then they use their servers as, essentially, a reverse proxy.” Cloudflare then caches all of your static content and pushes it out to their edge locations. Dynamic content is pulled from the customer’s server, but also routed in an optimized fashion through edge POPs. Of course, as your company grows, Cloudflare offers both premium- and enterprise-level service tiers. Impact Dialing now uses Cloudflare’s pro version, which costs only $20/month. “They do a lot beyond hosting content. If your site goes down, they’ll serve up cached content until your website goes back online. They protect you from DDoS attacks. They block traffic from bots and optimize all sorts of content on your site,” he said. For an SMB looking to compete against deep-pocketed incumbents, leveling the content delivery playing field could be the difference between success and failure.