Non Pure-play CDNs, Amazon Cloudfront and Level 3


Amazon Cloudfront and Level 3 are the only two Non Pure-play CDNs in the market today, with Verizon DMS following closely behind. Both are very successful catering to a specific clientele, offering some services that other CDNs don’t, including Akamai. Cloudfront offers the entire dish of cloud compute services and value added features with its CDN. Level 3 delivers linear video, over satellites, or global fiber network, and non-linear video over a CDN. In fact, Level 3 can deliver linear content to the television, and package that same content, and deliver it over-the-top to mobile devices, and platforms in various bit rates and formats. Is Level 3 or Cloudfront better than Akamai or EdgeCast because they offer unique services? 

Level 3, the Non-pure Play CDN

Level 3 plays well with broadcasters, and organizations streaming events with one million+ concurrent connections, like the Oscars or Super Bowl. No other CDN, besides Akamai, can stream events of this scale. Even if a CDN says they can do it, I wouldn’t personally want to risk it even if it cost much more to use Level 3 and Akamai. Level 3 is a specialist in the media sector, and that is what they do best.

They understand the world of broadcasting, satellite transmission, MSO’s, linear and the non-liner VOD ecosystem extremely well, better than any other CDN besides Akamai. The areas where Level 3 doesn’t play well: ecommerce, front-end optimization, middle mile acceleration (DSA), wireless last mile delivery, and web application streaming. However, to counter the limited CDN feature set, Level 3 offers other services that can be bundled with CDN such as IP transit, colo, and a bunch of other IP products.

Amazon, the other Non-pure Play CDN

Amazon Cloudfront is the other non-pure play CDN that successfully caters to startups that are using its cloud compute services. The Cloudfront CDN feature set is on par with most CDNs, excluding Akamai, Limelight and EdgeCast. For startups and established companies that are using AWS, Cloudfront is the best choice, especially since its pay as you go. Customers spending a couple of hundred dollars per month is a good fit for Cloudfront, but not a good fit for Akamai or EdgeCast.  Once that startup reaches a certain monthly data transfer volume, it makes sense to put it out to bid, in order to get the best bang for the buck. What monthly data transfer volumes should Cloudfront customers start bidding out their CDN services? I would say somewhere in the ball park of $2k per month.


Level 3 and Cloudfront are excellent choices in satisfying the need of a specific clientele, the broadcast/media customer, and the AWS customer, respectively. However, for ecommerce and non-broadcasting clients, Akamai, EdgeCast, Limelight, Instart Logic and other pure-play CDNs are good choices.  Why? Because pure-play CDNs are focused on creating the best CDN experience possible, developing, and rolling out a features every other quarter. They live and die by the CDN, and are forced to innovate or go extinct. On the other hand, Level 3 and Cloudfront can lose 50% of their CDN business overnight, and it will have minimal impact to their top line, since most of the revenues comes from the non-CDN customer.  To answer the question in paragraph one, Level 3 and Cloudfront are not better than other CDNs, but offer greater value in some specific cases.

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