Monday, March 23, 2009

AT&T Sees the Video Tsunami Coming

It's been predicted that video is going to sop up every Mbps of bandwidth available, and soon. Even today, broadband providers are repositioning themselves to say that unlimited bandwidth usage doesn't really mean you get to pound your access connection every second of the day. At least for consumers. Today unlimited bandwidth has monthly bandwidth caps because the provider's networks really aren't unlimited. In fact, they're strained.

One company that has recognized this and taken steps to add capacity is AT&T. But not just general capacity to the Internet. What AT&T has done is to add 400 Gbps of capacity last year to its CDN or Content Delivery Network.

So what's a CDN? It's a private parallel network to the Internet. You know that the Internet is the ubiquitous high bandwidth IP network that connects virtually the entire world in one big mesh network. If we were using the Internet for it's original purpose of research, educational and government email and file transfers, any bandwidth limitations might be transparent. But even as the Internet has been expanded to accommodate commercialization and general access, high bandwidth applications such as video have advanced even faster. Content and Internet service providers alike have recognized that it makes sense to move video applications to alternate networks before increasing bandwidth congestion brings everything to a crawl.

Enter the Content Delivery Network. These are privately run networks that connect (mostly) video content providers to drop-off points as close to the end user as possible. The content bypasses most of the international Internet to feed local nodes of the service provider. That content is then merged with Internet traffic and sent to your computer via DSL or Cable broadband. As far as you're concerned, it's all coming from the Internet.

Who are these CDN's. Big names include Akami Technologies, Limelight Networks, Level 3 Communications, and, now, AT&T. With its massive installed network base, AT&T has a leg up in that it also provides last mile solutions as well as Internet transport and private line networks.

The model of a Content Delivery Network is also applicable to businesses. If you need connectivity among multiple business locations, the service you want is MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching. This is a private network arrangement that has the ability to guarantee availability and performance, unlike the "best effort" service you can expect via the Internet. You can also get private line point to point connections when there are only two locations involved.

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