One cloud service that has gained rapid popularity over the last few years is the Content Delivery Network, or CDN. A CDN is essentially a platform for optimizing web content delivery performance, usually by distributing the content across a series of servers in an effort to get the content server as close to the end user as possible. Content Delivery Networks are most often used for the delivery of video content, but can be used for delivering nearly any type of web content.
There are a number of different cloud providers that offer CDNs. Among the major providers are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Akamai, and Alibaba Cloud. In this article, we compare the CDN services offered by each of these cloud providers.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a CDN solution to its customers called Amazon CloudFront. As is the case for many competing platforms, Amazon CloudFront attempts to minimize latency by placing web content on nodes that are geographically located as close to the end user as possible.
CloudFront delivers web content to end users over an SSL-encrypted HTTPS session. CloudFront supports common HTTPS request types such as HEAD, PUT, GET, POST, PATCH, DELETE, and OPTIONS. Although Amazon does provide an option to improve performance through the use of caching, caching is only supported for OPTIONS requests.
CloudFront is suitable for both on-demand and live streaming media. CloudFront natively supports Microsoft Smooth Streaming and HLS for on-demand streaming. For live streaming, CloudFront supports Adobe Media Server, Windows Media Service, and Wowza.
Another solution for streaming media is Akamai’s Adaptive Media Delivery. Akamai supports HTTP streaming of both live and on-demand video, and supports HTTP Live Streaming, HTTP Dynamic Streaming, Microsoft Smooth Streaming, and Dynamic Adaptive Streaming.
Like other CDN services, Akamai uses a distributed server architecture to place content servers as close to the delivery endpoints as possible. Akamai further enhances performance by using advanced cache optimization and media acceleration (though media acceleration is only supported through a media acceleration SDK).
Although Akamai’s CDN service is HTTP based, the company does support the use of HTTPS.
Like Alibaba Cloud (which will be discussed in a moment), Akamai offers a China CDN option, which helps to improve performance when delivering content to viewers in China. However, the Chinese CDN is offered as an optional add-on, and is not included in the core product.
Alibaba Cloud’s CDN solution is designed to deliver the blazing fast performance that is necessary to cope with high volume traffic, or deliver smooth video content, with support for FLV and MP4 media. Alibaba Cloud’s CDN system is made up of over 1,200 nodes, and makes it possible for websites to respond to requests within milliseconds.
Alibaba Cloud’s solution is especially strong in China, where the company has deployed over 1,000 CDN nodes. Perhaps even more importantly, however, Alibaba Cloud is helping its customers to cut through the red tape that is inherent in operating online in China. According to Chinese law, organizations that want to deploy a website on a CDN (in mainland China) are required to complete an ICP registration process. Alibaba Cloud staffs a dedicated team that can assist subscribers with this process.
As you would probably expect, the Alibaba Cloud CDN is designed to work seamlessly with other Alibaba Cloud services, including Elastic Compute Service (ECS) and Object Storage Service (OSS). Furthermore, Alibaba Cloud provides analytic capabilities that allow for the monitoring of traffic patterns, content popularity, bandwidth consumption, security, and more.
While it is true that raw performance is an important consideration when selecting a CDN, so too is scalability. After all, an excessively heavy workload will impact performance unless the underlying service is able to scale to meet the demand. Alibaba Cloud CDN scales automatically in response to content demand spikes. Furthermore, the service offers a content storage capacity of up to 1.5 petabytes.
Alibaba is currently offering a free trial of their cloud services. You can register for a free trial subscription at: https://www.alibabacloud.com/campaign/free-trial#free-products. The trial includes a $300 credit that can be used to explore Alibaba Cloud’s various cloud offerings.
Although there are a number of different options for those who need CDN services, not all options are created equally. When selecting a CDN service, it is important to choose a service that delivers the required level of performance, and that supports your required media type. It is also critically important to ensure that your selected CDN will work well within the regions in which you need to deliver content.
Brien Posey is a Fixate IO contributor, and a 16-time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. Prior to going freelance, Brien was CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He also served as lead network engineer for the United States Department of Defense at Fort Knox. Brien has also worked as a network administrator for some of the largest insurance companies in America. In addition to his continued work in IT, Brien has spent the last three years training as a Commercial Scientist-Astronaut Candidate for a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow Posey’s spaceflight training at www.brienposey.com/space.
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