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Apr 25 2016

Google Expands into CDN Business

As media services like Netflix continue to boom and more and more companies rely on 'the cloud' to deliver presentations or AV material, so-called content delivery networks (CDNs) turn into cornerstones of the digital business. So it doesn't come as too much of a surprise that Google wants a piece of the pie that was previously allotted to providers like Akamai, CloudFlare or Level 3.

Back in the late 1990s, digital business amounted to little more than a computerized version of a mail order service. The best experience an average customer could hope for was to be able to visit a web shop, pick books or software for delivery, and close the deal by having their credit cards or bank accounts charged. Services like PayPal were barely in the making, and online stores with downloadable content – let alone streaming services – existed on paper at best. The most advanced technology you'd come across was peer-to-peer file sharing; however, the standard delivery method was to host large files (or large amounts thereof) on FTP servers and then grant customers access to those. But with the bulk of people using unstable dial-in connections, it often backfired – and the inability to distribute/download content in one piece or at least resume the process where it broke off caused great frustration among web shop operators and customers alike.

Then came 1998, and with it a turning point for online businesses of all shapes and sizes. That year, Akamai Technologies (which derived from an MIT project) and Level 3 Communications (a former spin-off of a construction company) stepped forward with their idea of delivering content through a globally distributed network of proxy servers residing in dozens or even hundreds of data centers all over the world. By bringing mirrored copies of the original files closer to potential users, both download speeds and data quality could be increased. Today such content delivery networks, or CDNs, lay the foundations for numerous websites and services, from FT.com to Computerworld and from iTunes to Netflix. In other words, the web as we know it was built on and around CDNs – a notion that has recently dawned on other big players in the IT world, most notably Microsoft and a host of telecommunications carriers. Now Google has set foot on the same turf, fittingly at last week's National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, where the company introduced a beta version of Google Cloud CDN, a platform designed for sites that are hosted on VMs running inside its IaaS offering Compute Engine.

Already hailed as an "Akamai competitor" by some, Cloud CDN is said to differ from similar services by way of both design and implementation: while those mainly deliver static content, Google's offering is poised to serve up complete sites, i.e. text and HTML files, images/graphics, AV material, downloadables, games etc. that make up a web presence. To achieve this, the service "leverages Google's globally distributed edge caches to accelerate content delivery for websites and applications served out of Google Compute Engine." These edge caches are located in 50 data centers around the world – predominantly in the U.S., Europe and East Asia – so that Cloud CDN may offer lower network latencies, offload origins (i.e. server instances run by Google customers), and reduce serving costs. Technically, Cloud CDN is bundled with Google's HTTP(S) Load Balancing service; all the user has to do is to tick an extra checkbox while configuring the required hardware and instances. Other features include Anycast (i.e. the ability to deliver content from a single IP address to users everywhere, regardless of location), support for HTTPS and HTTP/2, invalidation, and logging.

As noted above, Google Cloud CDN is currently in beta state, but that doesn't mean it comes free of charge; a basic pricing guide is available here. For more details, please see the product overview and documentation. According to tests performed by performance monitoring service Speedchecker Ltd., Google's new service already ranks among the fastest of its kind, and so might deserve a closer look.

 
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