Content Owners Struggling To Compare One CDN To Another

I’ve blogged before about how most CDNs don’t give out data points in the market or to customers for them to try and fairly compare one CDN to another. It’s impossible to measure performance, capacity and many other aspects of a content delivery service offering from one provider to another. I got an e-mail this morning from a content owner who summed up what I hear all the time from customers:

"How do you think we should proceed looking for a new CDN and how do we get any data that will help us determine who we choose? All the CDN sales reps are blaming the other one in terms of network size, service quality, etc. and we can’t see the difference between many CDNs. Do you have research in terms of how much bandwidth, capacity, scalability, performance, etc?"

I know many of the CDNs hate these questions and say it is not fair for them to have to answer them since their capacity constantly changes and they are all making upgrades to their network footprint all the time. But why can’t CDNs give some sort of metrics on capacity per format in each region of the world? Look how many CDNs say they are global when they truly aren’t. Many CDNs that are in the Adobe partner program and listed on the Adobe site as supporting live Flash video don’t support live. And how is it that every CDN, large and small, global and regional, has gotten an A+ ranking from Keynote on their network quality?

I am not the only one who notices this stuff. If any content delivery network thinks I am pointing out things customers don’t already know, I’m not. I hear these kinds of points from customers all the time. And with more CDNs in the industry and more competition it is harder than ever for content owners to try and figure out who really does what in the space and what any one company’s limitations are.

While I would propose some suggestions to the CDNs of the type of data they should talk about to fix this, it’s pointless as it would then clearly show the differences between the networks. And too many of the CDNs want to be compared to all the CDNs as being on the same level playing field when in fact, they know that many times they aren’t. I don’t think there is anything wrong with not being as big as someone else or having as much capacity as someone else. Why would you want to tell a customer you are global, sign them up, and then have them find out the hard way that you really aren’t? Why start off the relationship on the wrong foot? This happens much_too_often with customers.

CDNs should highlight what they do well, what their core strength is and what type of customers they should and more importantly should not be going after. If were to put out an RFP tomorrow for all of their video delivery needs, I bet nearly every CDN would want to bid on that business, even though those of us in the industry know there are realistically probably only 2-3 CDNs today that could handle that level of traffic all at once.

The CDN facet of this industry has to get smarter and providers have to start evolving much faster in terms of the message they are delivering to customers. The service is already starting to be seen by many as a commodity. Now is the time to make it clear to the market and content owners what your real strength is. Looking at almost all of the CDNs websites, it is nearly impossible to find out what verticals they specialize in, what format(s) they support, what regions of the world they have delivery in (network maps don’t count), what type of reporting they have, (put up a demo account on your home page), what your message is to the market, (speed, reliability and global reach don’t cut it anymore), who your customers are, (case studies please) what your products are in detail (where are your product sheets?!) and for those that say they help content owners "monetize" their content, show examples of exactly what that means.

A CDN that delivers bits and who sells content delivery only with no tools or applications, that delivery service is not a monetization service. Pushing bits is not enabling content owners to monetize their content. Giving them tools or providing services to do targeted delivery, advertising, DRM and very granular reporting – those are monetization services. Simply shipping bits is not.

Too many of the CDNs are so focused on only using networking language
right now that they are not delivering any real marketing message to
customers. Go to the websites of the CDNs and look at the message on
their home page. The majority of them, but not all, are not delivering any
clear concise message with any real identity.

In my eyes, the content delivery market is going into the next big stage as we will see more growth in the next 2-3 years than we have seen in the past five years. Now is the time for CDN vendors to deliver a very clear and concise message to the industry and to customers of exactly what it is they offer and what the differences are between their company and others.