The content delivery market may be facing tough times these days, but attendees at the Content Networking Event Fall 2001 seem to agree on one thing: CDN technology will be key to future online business, including Web services and e-commerce.
"We're seeing a paradigm shift, a real transition from informational (content) towards using the same infrastructure to support value," says C.J. Stumpf, CTO at Digital Island Inc. "So you're moving from driving informational brochureware' to driving viable business transactions."
CDNs emerged on the scene about two years ago with Akamai Technologies Inc. leading a pack of companies that promised to deliver Web pages more quickly by caching content in a network of geographically dispersed servers on the edge of the Internet. Content could be delivered from the server located closest to an end user, drastically reducing transmission times.
At that time, most Web pages were static, containing "brochureware" and other simple content. As Web sites became more complex, CDNs enhanced their services, providing delivery not only for static pages, but also for dynamic content that could be assembled at the network's edge.
The next step, analysts say, is to enable transaction processing and application delivery. Web services, such as Microsoft's .Net, will need a delivery mechanism and CDN technology, because of its distributed architecture, will play an important role, says Michael Hoch, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group Inc.
"Content distribution is essential to Web services," he says. Stumpf agrees, saying CDNs will essentially "morph into distributed computing."
The path to that model isn't bump-free. Consider the market today: Several CDNs, including Edgix and Adero, have gone out of business in recent months. Akamai has had to reduce revenue forecasts and cut staff in an effort to ride out the tough economy.
At the same time, enterprise interest in CDNs is growing. That interest is helping to fuel a content networking market that International Data Corp. expects to grow from US$1.6 billion this year to $8 billion in 2005.
As the market grows, demands on CDNs will become more complex, analysts say. The service providers who survive will have to offer more than simple content delivery. They'll have to have storage capabilities, for example. Management tools that enable businesses to track how their Web sites are used also will become increasingly important as those sites move out to the edge.