Interview with Ofer Vilenski, CEO of Hola CDN

Today, video content makes up 64% of internet traffic – in three years, it should make up over 80% (Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2014–2019).  So why are so many CDNs treating this vital traffic as only a side project?

Hola CDN recognized this gap in the market and responded with the first CDN specifically designed for video delivery.  By building a network around the distinctive elements of the delivery stream, Hola CDN delivers video traffic faster, cheaper and more efficiently than several of its less focused competitors.

Along with video delivery expertise, Hola CDN has built a suite of analytic and management tools centered around video content control.  For producers and distributors, Hola CDN has streamlined video transmission, reducing hosting costs dramatically.  For viewers, Hola CDN uses fast start servers to start playback ASAP, and multi-stream switching to keep playing even under low bandwidth conditions.

By recognizing the fundamental differences between webpage and video traffic, Hola CDN is poised to take the video delivery market by storm.  We had a chance to ask founder Ofer Vilenski a few questions about the ideas and strategies behind his Cool Startup.

How did you come up with the idea for Hola CDN?

Hola started as a P2P CDN.  We developed a cool application for P2P routing and caching to speed up the Internet for consumers.  We soon found out that while on the aggregate, consumer behavior changes when performance increases, on a personal level consumers did not care enough about an application that increases the speed of their Internet.  We understood that we should be working with publishers, since they are the beneficiaries of this aggregate consumer behavior following an increase in performance.  Our consumer product did reach 65 million users, which gave us ample experience to exercise our algorithms to make the web faster.

We decided then to develop a third generation CDN for video.  The first generation was in 1995 when publishers delivered video directly from their servers. The second generation was in 1999, when Akamai and others set up data centers that replicated the publishers’ content around the world for local consumption.  This has not changed much until circa 2015, when YouTube and Netflix developed their in-house third generation CDN, which consisted of a client side element (typically embedded in the player) and server side software that communicated with the client, where the client is able to stream different parts of the same video from different servers.

We decided to leverage our experience and to load our software on to our own CDN servers around the world, and to create a JS client side module that publishers would embed in their video page, to create a third generation video CDN that is available to all video publishers.  By streaming every video stream from multiple servers in chunks, this architecture can provide much faster video start times, less re-buffering, and a lower cost structure.

Hola is now selling this solution worldwide, with initial large deployments doing well.

Do you compete with or supplement other CDN services?

We supplement CDNs that do non-video delivery well, by providing an add-on CDN for video only.

What products do you offer?

The Hola CDN includes a free statistics module that displays the aggregate user performance (start time, seek time, rebuffering rate, video quality, etc.), a multi CDN module that enables use of multiple CDNs in parallel with mid-stream switching between them (through a smart client, without changing the DNS), and the Hola CDN video streaming service itself.  The statistics module and the Multi CDN module are both free, and do not require publishers to subscribe to the Hola streaming service.  Go to HolaCDN.com for instructions on how to use these modules.

What differentiates Hola CDN from the competition?

The third generation architecture for delivering video comprising of a client side code that communicates with the CDN server network, so that any site can be as fast and smooth as YouTube and Netflix.

For video delivery companies, do you offer better performance, lower price or both? How can you achieve those goals?

Both.  Faster because we “auction” each chunk to get it from the fastest server from our network or from the publisher’s existing CDN that can deliver it, and by building out “fast start” servers that serve the first few seconds really fast (better hardware, faster connections, and by storing only the first few seconds of each video).  Cheaper because our mid-stream switching technology fetches chunks of data further down the buffer from servers in other locations, thus evening out the demand on local severs.

What features do you plan on adding in the next 12 months?

Often it’s the ads themselves that slow down the video start times, due to the ad networks’ slow response (in some cases) or the slow serving of the ads, or the time it takes to “stitch” the end of the ad to the start of the videos in other cases.  We are building client side technologies to make ad serving faster.  We are also building top-line metrics in to our statistics dashboard, to enable comparison of ad revenue per user by CDN from which content is shown, to enable A/B testing of what performance does to viewership of content and ads.

The video delivery CDN market is the most competitive segment within the CDN industry, how will you thrive long term?

While all the talk in the industry is about the CDN cost on one hand, and the number of POPs that a CDN has on the other, Hola is changing the discussion.  On the cost side, Hola’s technology gives us a different cost structure, where at “breakneck” market pricing we are still extremely profitable.  On the other hand we don’t talk about POPs, jitter, or any other metric that does not involve direct user quality of experience.  We are the only vendor that provides free statistics / analytics dashboards to all, so that our video delivery can be compared in its real results (video start time, buffering, video quality, seek time) to other CDNs.

At the end, in Western countries, the cost of delivery is marginal to publishers, whereas the difference in revenues is huge when performance is dramatically improved. (in South East Asia, South America, Japan and Australia, the video delivery costs are still prohibitive.  In those geographies, Hola’s delivery costs becomes a game changer).

How does your service work with mobile video delivery?

Same.

Is there anything else you would like to share regarding Hola CDN?

Hola is now 110 people, profitable, and growing to 200 folks by end of 2016.  We are hiring tech talents around the world – apply at hola.org/jobs.

Our investors include Horizons ventures (from Li Ka Shing, owner of Hutchison), Orange, DFJ and others.  We’ve raised $30m to make a faster Internet, and we are on our way!

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