How We Scaled Up Our Content Delivery Network in Latin America to Meet a Tenfold Increase in Demand
In a lot of ways, Latin America is the last frontier for CDNs. Networks have yet to reach their full potential there because of challenges like a lack of local infrastructure and the high cost of technology for businesses. That doesn’t mean they’re not on the uptick though. A recent report from the Global OTT TV and Video Forecasts estimated that revenue from over-the-top (OTT) video in the region will triple by 2021. And that means more businesses will be leveraging a CDN to ensure instant-on, flawless experiences on every device.
Next year, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will stream around the globe, and a few months later, the World Cup, a hugely popular event in Latin America, will consume the attention of soccer fans worldwide. If the numbers are anything to go by, these events will draw huge OTT viewership to screens big and small across the continent. The question is, with all of the challenges that Latin American CDNs face, can providers scale up quickly enough to satisfy the masses?
Give them what they want
Gone are the days when viewers, in Latin America or elsewhere, were willing to sit in front of their computers waiting for a video to buffer. In fact, to a large degree, the days of viewers sitting in front of a computer may already be long gone. Instead, they’re getting their video content on tablets and smartphones and smart TVs, and they expect their connections to keep up with their busy lives. This means that CDNs need to serve up a true 1 to 1 user experience; high-quality content needs to stream on many different devices, be highly personalized and relevant with functions and features having to follow users seamlessly on every screen.
That need places enormous demands on infrastructure — demands that are only going to keep growing. Latin American 4G connections are up by 121 percent, which is twice the global rate (nearly half of those are in Brazil).
These patterns are reflected in our numbers here at Verizon Digital Media Services, too. Since building our network in South America three years ago, traffic has gone up more than tenfold. In the past year, traffic in the region has more than doubled, and predictions are that this trend will continue as we continue to expand our infrastructure and capability.
In Latin America, the middle-mile and the last-mile present challenges
Buffering, also known as the spinning wheel of death, is caused by latency, and in Latin America, most latency is caused by weak middle-mile and last-mile infrastructure controlled by regional and local internet service providers (ISPs). This weak infrastructure means that when demand goes up, content bottlenecks at the local ISP, creating congestion and slowing down delivery times.
One of the biggest challenges is that the hub-and-spokes model — where one centralized location is a hub for a bunch of smaller locations — simply doesn’t work well in Latin America. For one thing, the continent’s topography doesn’t lend itself naturally to network interconnectivity.
Another big challenge is the difficulty in crossing borders. There are 12 countries (and one dependent territory) in mainland South America, and just because they share borders doesn’t mean they want to interconnect networks. Often content passing between them must run through intermediary networks that might be as far away as California or Florida or New York or São Paulo, slowing things down further as the middle-mile becomes that much longer.
Across Latin America, infrastructure is not up to par with the Asia Pacific region, Europe and the United States. CDNs and data centers eat up huge amounts of electricity: in some places, there simply isn’t enough power left, and in others, it’s just too expensive. Some of these issues aren’t unique to Latin America. For example, in Africa, many of the network connections need to run north to Marseille, France, and then back down onto the continent. In Latin America, however, the difficult topography and the lack of infrastructure mean the challenges are magnified.
Showing up on their doorsteps
Here’s the thing about latency, last-mile weakness and scalability: consumers don’t care why their connections are slow. They expect to be able to watch high-resolution videos and download content on demand, without any lag.
So how is Verizon Digital Media Services scaling our Edgecast Content Delivery Network to meet this rising Latin American demand? There are a few good options to handle the obstacles Latin America presents, and all of them involve working hand-in-hand with partners across the region.
In some places, we work with local providers to forecast growth well in advance so that partners have good lead time to expand. In other cases, a better answer is to implement advanced traffic management strategies to optimize pathways so that consumers get clear content on their devices. This means automating our network to recognize and avoid congested pathways before the lag time hits the customer.
In some cases, the best answer is simply to take one of the spokes from a congested hub and localize our infrastructure. Not only does this improve the regional partners’ infrastructure backbone (the “middle mile”), it delivers a faster service to their consumer.
Recently, we did this in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the face of electricity shortages, our partner, a major multinational telecommunications provider, simply didn’t have the power capacity to meet their demands, and congestion was also a huge problem. In the past, content would have gone from a hub like São Paulo, and this caused bottlenecks.
By localizing the infrastructure and bypassing those congested pathways, we were able to get a significant performance improvement for our customers, all while strengthening our partnership with the telecommunications provider.
Not only did this provide a better experience for the consumer by bringing that crystal-clear video content to its screen, it also significantly reduced the power footprint. We used a small building that our partner already had its own power for, and worked to make our own stack as energy-efficient as possible. It was a large investment of time and effort, but in the end, it was worth it. We’ve since rolled out similar deployments in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
Whatever the method, consumers in Latin America are demanding a streamlined, optimized one-to-one content experience. We’re proud that we’ve been able to meet that demand across the continent with our partners’ help.
Kyle Okamoto, VP of Network, Technology and Operations