Modern content delivery networks (CDNs) are unlocking new opportunities to pair endpoint-deployed applications with endpoint device content analysis. Rather than simply enabling clients to push their apps and data closer to the customer, these edge technologies are collecting data from internet-of-things devices and end-user mobile devices, then enabling near-real-time AI/machine learning of this data to help your application best understand what the customer is experiencing right now and how your app can deliver the most relevant and engaging insights.

For example, this type of data analysis can help your app identify what type of device your customer is using to engage your application (or your content) and where they are located (e.g., car or retail store). With these insights, you can serve up targeted content that is customized to the device and the location. Content sent to an automobile, for example, can be delivered in a safe format that minimizes driver distraction.

There are many use cases where this combined value can be so empowering. Among these are apps for sending accurate and timely information about public transportation that is delivered up front to get the customer to the flight or subway on time and then, once onboard, to deliver rich, targeted information and entertainment. Retailers, healthcare firms, hotels, and many others need to empower their app experiences with real-time insights within their facilities for more personalized customer experiences. And gaming companies know that to ensure strong online social experiences, they need to verify who is available, has a solid network connection, and is ready to play.

These capabilities will drive significant customer experience gains and innovation opportunities for companies delivering content for apps and websites in many industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, energy, automotive, media and entertainment, and others.

I’m kicking off a Forrester Q3 research report on this CDN market expansion. In this report, I will provide insight into how these vendors’ solutions are evolving, which types of endpoint devices and content they are incorporating, and the resulting near-real-time gains achieved. The challenges facing firms that look to integrate these types of endpoint data sets will also be addressed.

CDNs were at the forefront of edge computing in the early days of the internet. The chart below shows the expanding reach of CDNs over the past 30 years.

Akamai CDN
Akamai, Alexander Edge, Amazon Web Services, AT&T, Azion, CenturyLink, Cloudflare, Fastly, Microsoft Azure, and others
Content, images, and video delivered closer to consumers
Apps, websites, content, images, video, and more delivered closer to the customer, optimized based on their situation, location, insights, and capabilities
Data centers to:
Data centers & clouds to:
Local edge endpoints
Thousands of cloudlets, edge gateways, and endpoints

With the current high volume of employees working from home due to sheltering mandates, edge content delivery and experience optimization are more critical for your company’s and/or government agency’s success. These capabilities help empower your employees and customers to have better experiences from home.

There has so far been a massive increase in CDN traffic volumes since these COVID-19 life changes have happened. Akamai reported traffic increases of more than 30%: 82 terabytes per second (Tbps) in March 2019 compared to 167 Tbps in March 2020 — that’s traffic across its 4,100 locations in 136 countries and 1,000 cities. Azion, Fastly, and another CDN vendor all reported that their CDNs have seen a 70% increase in global traffic to news and digital publishing sites from February to March 2020. Likewise, video streaming services, gaming, social media, and educational brands saw traffic increases of 28% or higher during this period, with Cloudflare reporting a 40% increase from January 1 through May 20.

The leading cloud platforms and CDNs have all expanded their global market reach substantially by placing servers all over the world, and their edge computing offers lower latency by enabling apps to be placed very close to the end users.

Cloud Alternatives

Cloud platforms have also invested heavily in edge computing and IoT data analysis. These serverless and function-as-a-service (FaaS) platforms are quickly becoming deployable at the edge, rather than just within the public cloud data centers. FaaS platforms, such as Amazon Web Services Lambda, Microsoft Azure Functions, and Google Cloud Functions, give developers a fast way to build and deploy cloud-native microservices in Java, C#, JavaScript, or Python and then automatically scale them as needed. Where they fall short, however, is not having as broad a network of default edge locations, as CDNs do by default. CDN vendors Cloudflare and CenturyLink feel that their current FaaS/serverless offerings, Workers and Quest, provide the broadest global reach and performance.

If this expanded value prop appeals to you and if you are using CDNs today, we’d love to know. We want to hear your thoughts, stories, and feedback on your use of CDNs and their value to your organization:

1. For which applications, websites, and content are you leveraging CDNs today?

2. Are you using these new CDN features?

  • If so, with which applications, websites, and/or data sets?
  • What endpoint devices are you collecting data from?
  • What improvements have you achieved?
  • What benefits and gains are you achieving in customer experience, employee experience, digital twins, and more?

3. If you are not currently using these new features, do you expect to in the future?

  • What benefits and gains do you feel you could achieve with these new CDN features?
  • What endpoint devices would you want to incorporate?

4. Are you using cloud FaaS platforms, as well — or in replacement for CDNs?

  • If so, for what applications?
  • Are you leveraging your FaaS at the edge and tying it to edge computing? If not, to what extent do you see this needing to be provided by your cloud provider? And for what purposes?

To share your thoughts and insights, reach out to us:


(Written with Emily Stutzman, a research associate at Forrester)