FRAMINGHAM (04/24/2000) - Not all content-delivery services are created alike.
They're all aimed at speeding delivery of Web content to visitors, but there are crucial differences in technology and architectural approaches to be considered when choosing a provider, users and analysts said.
"You need to understand what your bandwidth usage patterns are" now and in the future, said Chris Doell, CEO of Sportstalk.com, a Palo Alto, California-based sports Web site. Also crucial are factors such as a service provider's performance-monitoring and reporting abilities and the demographics of visitors to a Web site, he said. Signing up with a service provider that has a global reach makes little sense, for instance, if most of your users are from North America.
Content delivery services are becoming increasingly popular as Web-site performance becomes a key issue. Such services cache frequently accessed static content - such as images and graphics - on distributed servers that are closer to the Web user than is the original server.
Moving content to the "edge of the network'' reduces the congestion on a content provider's primary site and reduces the time taken for a Web page to be served to a user.
Studionext.com Corp. in Woodbridge, New Jersey, for example, was able to significantly boost the speed at which its video content was served by using Akamai Technologies Inc. as a content-delivery provider. The move "allowed us to save on end-to-end infrastructure costs," while improving performance, said David Wu, CEO of Studionext.com.
"The fundamental value of all these providers is the same," said Greg Howard, president of The HTRC Group LLC, a San Andreas, California-based consultancy.
But there are some core differences in technologies, business approaches and scale, he added.
For starters, there are two approaches to delivering such services: facilities-based and multinetwork services, Howard said.
Facilities-based providers such as Digital Island Inc. in San Francisco, Exodus Communications Inc. in Santa Clara, California, and other major telecommunications companies own and operate their networks and data centers.
Such companies make sense for users who want providers that can offer Web, application hosting and other outsourcing services in addition to content delivery, Howard said.
Multinetwork providers such as Akamai in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Adero Inc. in Boston place their own servers in as many backbone networks as possible. The focus is more on users who are looking mainly for content-related services and not so much for outsourcing.
And there are differences among multinetwork providers as well. Adero, for instance, has deployed 115 large Unix servers on multiple networks to cache static, or unchanging, content. The servers also mirror and host portions of customer applications that will allow Adero to serve up dynamic, or fast-changing, content faster to Web users.
Akamai, which is one of the biggest companies in this space, relies on a network of 3,000 Linux servers worldwide to cache and deliver content.
Unlike some content providers that tend to route data over the shortest path, Akamai uses routing and caching software to examine the state of the Internet at the moment and find the fastest - not necessarily most direct - route to the user, said Jeff Young, a marketing manager at Akamai.
Mirror Image Inc. in Woburn, Massachusetts, is setting up large data centers worldwide complete with mainframe, multiterabyte storage facility and high-end Unix server technologies. The data centers will act as sort of regional hosting sites for content providers, serving up a wide variety of content.
Others such as Epic Realm Inc. in Richardson, Texas, are targeting the company's services mainly at e-commerce sites. A core differentiator for Epic Realm is its ability to deliver "perishable content," said Keith Lowery, the company's chief technology officer.