Tuesday 29th September 2020

Building custom content delivery networks to deliver software upgrades to devices

Published on April 13th, 2020

In our increasingly connected world, software has become a significant component of the products we buy. When we purchase something, we expect it to last, but with the pace of technological development increasing so rapidly, it’s become mostly illogical to buy new “things” as soon as they are available.

Instead, we simply download new software to the “things” we already have, says Lars Larsson, CEO of Varnish, to gain access to new features or functionality. Be it a smartphone, refrigerator, or even a car, this is the way the modern world works.

Delivering those updates simply and seamlessly to customers around the world is no easy feat. Slow performance and downtime are just two of the problems you can face. Giving up control of your content to an external party can dull a company’s competitive edge – for many, the best option is to build a bespoke delivery solution. To illustrate just how simple it can be to develop a content delivery network that does exactly what you want it to, let’s take the example of pioneering automotive company, Tesla.

How Tesla built a CDN for its own needs

In 2013, Tesla’s IT team realised their infrastructure was not scalable.

With a website heavily-laden with video content and document scans, which both consume space and take time to download, the company realised it was not using its resources optimally. Customers connecting to the online service centre weren’t getting the experience they had come to expect of a brand like Tesla.

A small team created to identify the problem started by asking what was going wrong – they found multiple instances of duplicate content being transferred over and over again. The solution was a question of finding a way to only transfer that data once.

A CDN was the obvious answer. They needed a robust content delivery network (CDN) with built-in caching technology that performed consistently across the globe. At the time, the reliability of most off-the-shelf global CDN solutions in the Chinese market was a problem and with global consistency critical to Tesla’s growth ambitions, the team decided a private CDN was the way to go.

Once this approach was decided, things started to move quite quickly – notorious for maintaining a start-up culture at scale, the team had developed a proof of concept within a matter of hours.

Delivering a consistent user experience across the globe – even in traditionally tricky markets such as China – was front of mind for the team. To be cost effective and maintain better control, the Tesla team wanted to use their existing network infrastructure – they needed a partner capable of working with them to turn this proof of concept into a viable, working solution.

Varnish Software stepped up to the plate, working with Tesla engineers to develop a “do it yourself” CDN, enabling the company to better serve the needs of its customers while maximising control.

Smart city and communication network concept. IoT(Internet of Things). ICT(Information Communication Network).

With this new CDN in place, when a request comes into the Tesla network, the process looks at a map and selects the closest location, then re-directs the request to that location. The Tesla CDN keeps only one copy of each video no matter how many people are trying to fetch it. So if six people want to see the same 7.5 GB video, it is only retrieved once. Also, a “pre-fetching” process constantly looks for any new software/videos available, pre-populating popular caches for high-volume regions.

More complicated content

As the company continued to evolve, and its focus turned to making Tesla vehicles increasingly autonomous, that same CDN became even more useful.

With functionality being added to Tesla vehicles already on the road through software upgrades, such as the well-documented Autopilot feature, the company found itself with a growing installed base of hardware wanting to connect to company servers to download the latest updates. These files are often not that much larger than the videos that sit on the company’s website, and the CDN and caching technology works in precisely the same way.

Do-It-Yourself CDNs

Whether you’re looking to build your own in-house private CDN, hybrid CDN, consumer CDN, or advanced edge platform, with the right components, a high-performance, global CDN that meets your specific needs can be built in as little as one afternoon.

Building your own content delivery ecosystem allows you to optimise performance, control and oversee your own content delivery, while ensuring availability, reliability, flexibility and great user experience – all while lowering your costs.

As the number of connected devices we buy today continues to skyrocket, and manufacturers continue to add value to customers by providing new functionality and enhanced security protections via incremental software updates, many more companies will find themselves building their own, bespoke CDN solution to handle the job.A

The author is Lars Larsson, CEO of Varnish.

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