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Interview: CenturyLink expands CDN power across APAC

Content delivery networks (CDNs) are a fundamental part of web traffic across the globe. With the rise of online streaming, rich web content and the digitalisation of business, their evolution will be crucial to keeping the service experience to a high standard.

CenturyLink's enterprise network spans 720,000 kilometres of fibre – that's approximately 18 times the world's circumference. It's a vast company with more than 45,000 employees around the globe and underpins much of the internet's backbone.

We talked with CenturyLink's Asia Pacific vice president of product management, Francis Thangasamy. He leads product management covering CenturyLink's suite of solutions including network, hybrid cloud - IT, security, unified communications, and IT - managed services.

CenturyLink says it is committed to delivering strong customer experience, citing its Adaptive Network solutions as a strategic enabler to scalable, fast and reliable content delivery across the globe.

CenturyLink's CDN forms just one part of the company's core offerings, alongside networking, IT and cloud, and security. Its CDN works alongside with nine major media companies, as well as gaming, media and entertainment companies too.

“CDN goes beyond what people used to do in the past like renting videos, or gaming. Today it's about how to distribute video faster and how to get live broadcast events closer to customers in a cost-effective manner,” says Thangasamy.

The company's CDN services worldwide can provide peak capacity exceeding 120Tbps, delivered through 120 points of presence.

CDNs are a worthy investment, as IDC statistics show that CDN traffic will grow 35% in the next five years.

“As a region with 55% of the world's population living in Asia, the internet revolution is growing tremendously. There are still countries that don't have good broadband, so this is just the beginning,” Thangasamy says.

The commercial CDN market is evolving with the advent of a new breed of competitors that capitalise on emerging technologies such as virtualisation, DevOps, and peer to peer (P2P) along with simplified pricing models to compete against established legacy players. Virtualisation is also ushering in a new breed of software-dominant players, Thangasamy notes.

“Our high-performing global CDN leverages consumer device telemetry, data science and disruptive edge delivery methodologies to help improve user experience during peak traffic hours and minimise the risk of inadequate or inaccurate planning for large events,” says Thangasamy.

CenturyLink commits to Asia Pacific with additional CDN investment

To grow alongside the booming Asia Pacific (APAC) market, CenturyLink has doubled its CDN capacity in the region and repositioned some of its CDN model to include edge capabilities.

The company now has nodes in 11 cities across Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“We have been focused on clearly defining the markets we want to serve in APAC. This means that we have repositioned our assets in the region to serve those markets, defining the investments we will make to better serve customers and grow the region,” says Thangasamy.

“We are focused on the customer and how we will achieve transformational customer experience is by focusing on digital experience, AI and big data, and by leveraging automation and virtualisation to deliver services."

In November 2019 CenturyLink launched its CDN Edge Compute. It is a solution designed engineers to access and control of workloads at the edge, which helps power a better internet by reducing latency and data backhaul, and maintaining a strong security perimeter.

Thangasamy adds that in Australia, CenturyLink is helping customers with their IT Agility and Connected Security requirements.

“This encompasses delivering emerging applications at the edge with the network as the new data center as well as to leverage our expansive global threat visibility and to act against the threats we see, ‘See More. Stop More' to help customers drive a proactive connected security strategy in their digital business journey.

 The evolution of CDNs to mesh networks and beyond

“The industry is evolving from a traditional content provider to a market disruptor. We're looking at a distributed network to find out how to use P2P to create a mesh network for example, and how organisations can use this with fewer bandwidth requirements,” says Thangasamy.

Last year CenturyLink acquired Streamroot, a company that enables connected consumer devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, set-top consoles and smart TVs to participate in the serving of premium content through a secure and private mesh delivery.

“We're forming a mesh network using IoT devices and users to elevate the distribution of our content,” says Thangasamy.

Streamroot DNA applies sequential algorithms utilising geographic location, ISP, device capabilities, network topology, and content type - format to promote efficient multi-sourced delivery.

That approach can lead to a reduction of the total CDN bandwidth required to deliver content and ensures a cost-effective solution for customers without compromising on quality, says Thangasamy.

Streamroot DNA has enabled customers like Dailymotion with delivering over 100 million video views per day, ensuring robust video delivery while keeping costs down.

Sourcing from a local mesh network promotes higher bitrates and less rebuffering at any given time. In this way, mesh is complementary to CDN delivery and a powerful tool for broadcasters who are looking for flexible and instant scale, Thangasamy says.

Ensuring service continuity in the age of buffering and dropouts

Some streaming providers have been plagued with customer complaints about buffering and dropout issues, although from their end their CDN servers were working properly.

We asked Thangasamy what CenturyLink and providers such as broadcasters must do to ensure a better delivery experience.

“The reality is that end-users require almost instantaneous content but there's a lot that needs to happen, and a lot that CDN service providers need to look at.

“On the technology front, enterprises are expecting an innovation agenda that incorporates virtualisation, DevOps, open APIs and programmability at the edge,” says Thangasamy.

“Edge compute capabilities like mesh go beyond what physical servers provide, bringing data closer to the people,” he notes.

On the commercial side, enterprises are demanding a commercial framework that is transparent, easy to understand, and embodies co-innovation to enable a richer customer experience.

For large media companies, a multi-CDN architecture/strategy is highly desired not only from price competitiveness but more from availability and performance perspectives.

Security is critical to all segments, with importance to web delivery and increasing importance to media content delivery.

Thangasamy also highlight's CenturyLink's Channel Partner Program members, including its master agents, who play a critical role in enabling successful digital transformations for mutual customers.

He says that CenturyLink is more than just CDN - it is an end-to-end solutions provider.

“Our channel/alliance partner program allows access to CenturyLink's full portfolio of networking and cloud solutions, including SD-WAN, security, hybrid cloud and IT services, voice and unified communications, and managed services and IT consulting services," he concludes.

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