Blog | Content & Streaming Providers
August 1, 2016

Open Minds, Open Source, Open CDNs

Barry Tishgart, Vice President

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is essential for any company operating in the entertainment and media space, many of which use multiple CDNs. The standard definition of a CDN is relatively simple – a collection of geographically-dispersed servers that optimize delivery of all kinds of content based on the end-user’s physical location. Perhaps stating the obvious, reducing the distance between the server and the end-user will lower the potential for degradation, and improve the content consumption experience. However, what aren’t as obvious are the unique benefits that can be gained from using an open source CDN. Read on to find out why some organizations go with the ‘open’ option:

  • Collaboration – An open source CDN relies on a community of developers, website administrators, and network owners to build, maintain, and improve the CDN software. These open source communities often have a mix of skill sets and industry backgrounds, but work together to reduce development costs and contribute to highly performant CDNs.

  • Lower Cost – Because so many companies and individual users are contributing to the community and feature set, this lowers the overall cost for all community users.

  • Speed to Market – Open source projects often deliver many critical features over short timelines due to the fact that contributions come in from multiple high profile and well-funded companies in parallel.

  • Independence – Using open source software ensures that a user’s web project won’t be dependent on a single company’s funding, road map or technology, and therefore is able to move forward despite individual company setbacks and changes in the marketplace. Further, if a user decides they need to change their technology, they are able to do so without wasting a lot of resources because they didn’t have a large amount of capital invested in one system in the first place.

  • Support Flexibility – Open source software allows users to decide how much they want to do on their own, and also gives them multiple options for support should they choose to get help. With open source software, it is also much easier to hire people with experience in a particular technology since multiple companies both develop and use open source software.

  • Configuration – Although a community builds and maintains the CDN software, a user decides how they will use this software… such as which optional features to implement, how to configure services to deliver content, and which hardware to use.

  • Diversity – Open source CDNs allow all types of individuals and companies to submit features and functionality to a project, and therefore have extremely large and diverse communities that collaborate on a wide variety of features and solutions to challenging issues.

  • Innovation – Due to the diversity and collaboration, open source CDNs are constantly innovating across multiple industry challenges. This leaves them well positioned to accommodate next gen media requirements, such as new protocols, interactive features, e-commerce systems, etc.

  • Standardization – One of the biggest benefits of open source CDNs is that they are open.  Contributions to the CDN eventually reach a critical mass, which drives the community to innovate and simplify standards. While proprietary CDN platforms move further and further from industry standardization in an effort to patent and protect their intellectual property, open source constantly moves towards unified standards. This ensures simplicity and user-friendliness over the long haul. Comparing the Windows Media Server and Flash Media Server to HTTP-based streaming is a great example of how open standardization really does drive better long term outcomes.

  • Security – Security is a key concern when implementing any software into a technology stack. CDN software is no exception, as it plays a major role in distributing critical content. This is where open source shines. Compared to proprietary software, open source development ensures more “eyes” on the product. Having more individuals working with an open source project increases the likelihood that potential vulnerabilities and design flaws are uncovered much faster than with proprietary software development. This is evident with Linux and Apache - some of the most widely deployed and secure open source projects in the world. In fact, studies like the Open Source Hardening Project, established in 2006 by the US Department of Homeland Security, have shown fewer security flaws compared to proprietary software.[1]

All in all, the ongoing rise in content consumption via mobile devices, applications, and websites necessitates highly performant CDNs that can support their complex delivery requirements now and in the future. Open source CDNs are collectively built by some of the brightest minds the world over, and often lead the way in content delivery innovations. They also allow users to maintain complete control over their projects, and to easily customize and improve how their content is delivered. Open source is about sharing knowledge for the greater good of all CDN users. Whether initiated by businesses, nonprofits, or individual users, open source projects enable users to augment and accelerate their software development efforts.

The Comcast CDN is an active part of the open source community. Our commercial CDN uses the open source ‘Apache Traffic Server’ caching engine and we regularly contribute to this open source project. We even have our own ATS committers on staff. Comcast also designed and open-sourced a caching control layer called ‘Traffic Control,’ that allows users to tie together many ATS caches to form a large-scale CDN. The Traffic Control software is available in Github and includes a Traffic Router, Traffic Ops, Traffic Vault, Traffic Monitor, Traffic Stats, and Traffic Portal. And, we are proud to say that other companies are actively using Traffic Control. A recent example is Cisco, which created a commercial CDN offering for service providers on top of Traffic Control.

Beyond the open source community, customers of the Comcast CDN also benefit from our open-sourced technology. They are using one of the most performant open source caching technologies in the world, which is also used by top-tier companies like Apple, Yahoo, and LinkedIn. This ensures that they are getting the latest technology and highest performance for media delivery from the Comcast CDN. Click here to learn more.