Speed Lights

Content Delivery In The Virtual World: If The VICAP Fits, Wear It

Speed LightsWe’re set for one heck of a ride on the Internet over the next half-decade. For the period 2013-17, Cisco’s Visual Networking Index predicts the compound annual growth rate of machine-to-machine (M2M) modules as a component of overall Internet traffic will be 82%, along with 79% for smartphones, 104% for tablets, and 24% for TVs. So how is the infrastructure going to cope? More fiber, higher speed network protocols, and faster 4G mobile connections plus smarter network utilization will rush to sate our ever-growing demand for more content, more apps and the whole Internet of Things.

These developments are driving fast changes for operators on the global Internet. Content providers can no longer stay competitive with market leaders like Akamai, Limelight, and Edgecast by just streaming content efficiently, or providing static content over dedicated content delivery networks (CDNs) to a global subscriber base. Similarly, in order to stay in business, infrastructure and data center operators going up against global carriers and cloud providers need to reach higher utilization levels than their traditional business models allow for. They need to monetize their spare server and network capacity.

Crucially, virtualization allows for storage and networks to retrieve data much more efficiently, and cloud computing can provide content and apps anywhere with users only paying for the data resources actually consumed. We’re getting a lot more for a lot less, because we will be paying by the drink. It also frees the application provisioning from the data center operations.

Leading-edge content providers are combining the two at still higher integration levels. They are melding their visualization strategies with hybrid- and public clouds, and running combined operations off a single pane of glass with no on-premise servers at all. Content providers in a pay-as-you-go model can spin up all the virtual machine capacity they need on-line, and have it distributed around the globe to whatever customer base they want to reach.

A new breed of virtual capacity providers is emerging to provide that single pane of glass to virtual application providers. Apart from providing the software management layer, they are also federating the access to and purchase of cloud capacity. Content and application providers can thus shop around for the cheapest or most suitable cloud resources without changing management system.

One such provider is VPS.net in the US, another is OnApp in Europe. Looking at the companies’ service model, they are definitely not classic CDN providers! OnApp’s capo-de-capos federated marketplace approach illustrates well how the virtual marketplaces are mushrooming fast these days, leaving simple CDN resource aggregators like CDN Planet far behind.

The success of these virtual capacity providers (VICAPs) will be determined by their ability to attract quality of service defined bandwidth, and add storage and processing supplier capacity to their marketplaces, coupled with their ability to provide the overarching management software.  The OnApp GUI looks really neat, and now includes the Wowza Media Server. But crucially, the SP customers need to understand the new service model and the accompanying pricing scheme.

Clearly most of the SPs OnApp wants as customers already have virtualization and cloud capabilities, but may not be utilising their resources and infrastructure fully. For green field sites OnApp has configured joint hw/sw packages with Dell for fast implementation of pre-integrated solutions. That is a smart move as OnApp can piggyback on Dell’s marketing machine. It also moves Dell in the direction of being a solutions provider and service integrator.

Certainly, competition for customer attention in this market is coming from many different directions including colos, system integrators, hardware vendors and carriers. Ease of use, fast deployment, flexibility and positioning vis-a-vis specific customer types are crucial factors for the new kid in class: the VICAP.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (flickr)

About the author
Bernt Ostergaard