“The future is private”
– Mark Zuckerberg
With blockchain poised to be the new – and better – internet, teams of developers and technologists globally are working to figure out exactly “how” the various frameworks that underpin the versatile capabilities of the internet can be migrated to its successor. At the university of Luxembourg, a team of 3 have proposed a novel blockchain-based content delivery network (B-CDN) that leverages the functionality of the blockchain to provide a decentralised and secure platform to connect content providers with users. In this article, we will explore what CDNs actually are and discuss the benefits and of this particular use case of the blockchain.
First things first: What is a CDN?
Simply put, a Content Delivery/Distribution Network (CDN) is a geographically distributed group of (caching) servers which work with each other to provide fast delivery of Internet content around the world; It’s all about the performance and the availability. The CDN is the reason why whether you’re in Lagos or in Johannesburg, your Youtube videos still load just as quickly. It’s why Netflix makes it possible to watch hours and hours of movies and TV shows, as if they were Youtube videos as well! It’s why using Instagram or Facebook to look at your friends recent post happens so seamlessly by swiping down your feed. CDNs are the essential framework by which we (as users) are able to have information (content) given to us at the click of a button, regardless of where we might find ourselves, and regardless of how many people we are in that region trying to connect to that same platform. Here’s a 2016 geographical map of “Open Connect” – the CDN network for Netflix:
The Shortcomings of the CDN
According to a report by Cisco, mobile data traffic will grow by 74% by 2021 due to the increased availability of devices as well as the rise of high-resolution video content on the internet. This coupled with the evident cultural shift from traditional broadcasting services to streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix, has telecom operators apprehensive about a coming bottleneck due to the strain on current networks. Another efficiency problem rises when you consider that there is currently a lack of joint effort between different content providers, as there is currently no efficient and secure platform for the cross-content platform sharing. This inefficiency can be explained by considering the fact that there are multiple instances of “you” on several different platforms. There’s your account on Facebook, there’s your account on YouTube and there’s your account on Netflix, all storing the same/similar details on different databases (that each require serious maintenance) that are then copied several times over across the world – wouldn’t it not be a better and more efficient use of resources if there was a way to have your one account that subscribes to these different services instead of several duplicates? And moreover, wouldn’t it be great if on top of this, you were able to maintain your privacy and anonymity whilst doing all this?
Bringing Blockchain into the Picture
As proposed in the paper, the proposed architecture of the B-CDN will make use of the the registration and subscription of the users to different content providers, while ensuring that the user’s complete privacy is maintained through to virtual identity that is a feature of the blockchain network. Building on that, the content providers can considerably minimise expense in managing their users’ subscription since all this will be managed by the blockchain. Another feature of proposed B-CDN would be that it creates a public immutable database of the requested content from all the content providers, on which every content provider can better evaluate the user preference on its contents, and hence better maximise their service efficiency – thereby proposing that conent providers develop feature-based caching algorithms that exploit the public database available on the blockchain to provide a better service.
It is then noted that a win-win situation between the content providers and customers is the direct implication of such a system, as the B-CDN would thence improve the quality of user experience (which includes guaranteed privacy) and will reduce the cost of distributing the content, for all content providers.
In conclusion, even with 139 million subscribers (and growing) we can be rest assured that our plans to binge watch our favourite shows and movies won’t be interrupted anytime soon. It will in fact just get better!