The Impact Of HTTPS On Caching Deployments In Operator Networks

When Google made the decision in 2013 to have all of their properties and data, including YouTube, move to HTTPS delivery, many have been asking what impact this has had on open caching deployments inside operator networks. Some have suggested that HTTPS delivery is becoming a trend but based on what we have heard from other content owners, and from talking to last-mile providers, I don’t expect this to be a broader industry trend in the long run.

In many cases, we can use the publicly stated plans of large streaming services like Netflix as proof of outlook for the industry as a whole. In short, the decision to stream all content via HTTPS is an expensive one and the business goals of long form video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, ESPN, and Hulu can be met through more efficient and far less costly streaming infrastructure and best practices. To this point, Netflix publicly stated they would not implement SSL given their assessment that “costs over time would be in the $10’s to $100’s of millions per year” to fully encrypt all their streaming traffic. [Source: one, two]

Indeed, we know that content providers worldwide have adopted best practices to manage content security and consumer privacy for streaming media. Through the use of DRM to protect content rights and URL obfuscation combined with control plane encryption to secure consumer privacy, content providers can meet their obligations to both content rights owners and consumers. These streaming media best practices also support the deployment of open caching solutions in operator networks to optimize online video for both network utilization and Quality of Experience (QoE).  Going forward, content providers will continue to rely on these best practices to scale their streaming offerings worldwide and the majority won’t move to HTTPS delivery.

There will be significant and long-term value in the deployment of open caching as a critical part of the overall open architecture for streaming video. Operators can invest in open caching platforms with confidence, knowing that their investment will continue to deliver value in the form of network cost savings and improved QoE over the long run.

In just a few instances, as seems to be the case with YouTube, some content providers may take the extreme and costly step of encrypting both control and data plane traffic for the sake of consumer privacy. Full SSL encryption is generally considered to be cost prohibitive and few, if any, other content providers can afford to implement such a model. However, even in the case of fully encrypted traffic, it’s a safe bet to expect that content providers will continue to work collaboratively with caching technology providers to support traffic optimization and open caching in last mile networks.