The prime real estate here is in nondescript box-like structures all over the world, which serve as a link between internet service providers, websites, and consumers connecting to the web. In the late 1990s, companies like Akami and Level 3 invented a business for themselves by setting up servers with ISPs and then caching popular webpages locally. ISPs liked it because they had to carry less traffic on their networks. Websites liked it because it made their pages load faster.
But the internet is now in its very own age of video, and there’s simply so much traffic moving on the network that websites are striking deals with the ISPs themselves and installing their own gear in nondescript buildings all over the world.
Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and others are doing this, says Dan Rayburn, an editor with StreamingMedia.com who follows this space. But Rayburn doesn’t call it a land rush. “There are a handful of companies that are large enough,” he says. “But you have to be a certain sized company doing enough traffic.”
Many of these deals are secret, but Deepfield Networks knows of about 40 companies that are setting up their own content delivery networks with service providers, according to Craig Labovitz. But he’s bound by non-disclosure agreements, and can’t name names. According to Labovitz, about 70 percent of Netflix traffic is now flowing through servers it set up at ISPs. Back in January, all that traffic was going through Content Delivery Network companies such as Level 3, Akamai, and Limelight.