A tale of two internets: how Content Delivery Networks are guzzling up the web

Facebook and YouTube

The two biggest private CDNs out there – by far – are Facebook and YouTube. This week Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his social media platform has passed two billion active users, having reached a billion in October 2012. That's an incredible number. Next comes YouTube (1.5 billion), WhatsApp and Messenger (both 1.2 billion – and both owned by Facebook), WeChat (889 million) and the fast-growing Instagram (700 million).

Video will represent 80% of all internet traffic by 2021

Cisco predicts that by 2021, video will represent 80% of all internet traffic (it's presently 67%) and forecasts vast increases in live streaming video, AR, and VR across online entertainment patterns. Netflix may be a smaller CDN in terms of daily users – at 'just' 100 million worldwide – but it does very big numbers; about 100 million hours of video are streamed per day via Netflix, around half in the US and half for the rest of the world (though it's not available in China).

CDNs generally use their own purpose-built data centres (Image Credit: Facebook)

The CDN gap

Private CDNs may be seen as essential by some companies, but they are causing a chasm in the worldwide web. They may be predicted to carry 71% of total internet traffic by 2021, but the regional divides are clear. Cisco reports that while private CDNs will carry the majority of internet traffic in North America, Western Europe and Asia Pacific, that figure drops to a mere quarter in Latin America and Eastern Europe. In Africa and the Middle East, it's barely 10%; the internet is very soon going to look vastly different depending on where you live.

The traffic gap

Meanwhile, Akamai reports that the global average internet connection speed increased by 15% in the past year. That last stat is key because the CDN's success – and especially that of Netflix – is built on speed. CDN provider Akamai’s latest State of the Internet report reveals that the global average connection speed is 7.2Mbps, with Singapore having the fastest fixed broadband speeds (184.5Mbps) and the UK having the fastest average mobile speeds (26Mbps).

New media like VR will only intensify the move to CDNs

An internet of… everything

If the private CDN is creating a 'second' internet, a third now appears inevitable. Cisco predicts that the Internet of Things (IoT) will represent half of all internet connections by 2021. That's so big that some think it deserves a more suitable name.

"This new research from Cisco confirms that we’re moving from the Internet of Things, to an Internet of Everything," says Lee Nolan, Solutions Director for Insight UK. "With IoT connections set to double by 2021, we’re witnessing a technology revolution that is set to rival the birth of the PC, even the mobile." 

Cisco predicts that healthcare will be the fastest-growing industry in this space, growing 30% annually. "The IoT can be used to track patients and equipment," says Nolan of connected health monitors and medicine dispensers. "The focus should be on investing in infrastructure that can cope with vast pools of data, whether it be cloud or network capacity."

A tale of two internets?

Do we have two worldwide webs? As infrastructure and bandwidth increase, video is eating the internet, and the big internet companies are creating private CDNs to reshape it in response. But as the trend to video and rich media intensifies, growing to constitute over 80% of all traffic, what is today a phenomenon in only the West and Asia Pacific will surely spread to create a global internet dominated by CDNs. And now comes the IoT…