Content Bridge Creaks Under Weight of Dot-Com Busts

Content Bridge, the first operating content peering exchange, has a problem: Its only two resellers are going under, and customers and partners are hesitant to join.

Content Bridge, the first operating content peering exchange, has a problem: Its only two resellers are going under, and customers and partners are hesitant to join.

In the volatile world of content delivery networks (CDNs), content peering has long been a contentious issue, with at least five initiatives running concurrently to establish a standard that would make content distribution networks interoperable, while growing the market for the vendors involved.

Content Bridge has long been seen as the leader in the space, bridging the gap between independent content distribution networks and Akamai Technologies. But as competing standards appear to be taking hold, momentum at Content Bridge seems to be slowing.

As the dot-com economy shrank, the CDN market moved its attention from content sites to enterprise customers, with Akamai and Speedera Networks, along with Digital Island — recently purchased by Cable & Wireless — being the three companies analysts see as survivors. Most other CDN activity is concentrated around private networks built by enterprises for internal use, which dont have acute peering need.

"The part you are not seeing is the value proposition that Content Bridge has for traffic-server customers — there is a huge amount of interest because we have a Content Bridge," says Roxanne Ivory, Inktomis senior director of marketing. "Ours never was a revenue play."

The part that observers do see is reseller Aderos general manager Al Fink saying his company will go under if it doesnt raise more cash by years end. The company recently sold its share in Content Bridge to Inktomi. Another reseller, Madge.web, is taking its U.K. headquarters unit into bankruptcy. On top of that, Content Bridges great hope, Exodus Communications, is apparently applying brakes to its plans to resell services.

"None of us anticipated this, of course," Ivory says.

Based in part on billing and mediation software developed by Apogee Networks, the Content Bridge allows customers to receive financial settlements for content distributed on other participants networks. With backers like America Online, this is a powerful offering; other CDNs could use Content Bridge to deliver content into AOLs network, and AOL could use Content Bridge to get additional revenue for some of the content it distributes through its walled garden.

Inktomi makes no secret of its desire to sell more of the caching software that enables peering through the Content Bridge. But other caches are becoming popular with the international carriers and enterprise customers that represent the biggest growth area in the CDN market space.

Though caching equipment vendor InfoLibria was invited to join Content Bridge, Chief Scientist Abdelsalam Heddaya says the initiative is perceived to be closed to the idea of standards as it attempts to gain traction as a de facto standard. So why, he reasons, waste time in a dysfunctional alliance that has no customers, when InfoLibria caches could be interoperable and running a content-peering specification from one of the other groups, sooner?

"We need to understand better how our customer would benefit from us joining Content Bridge," he says. InfoLibria has joined the Cisco Systems-led Content Alliance and is willing participate in the standards effort that is tied into Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). InfoLibria also co-founded the Broadband Content Delivery Forum with Nortel Networks. Other standards-related efforts include the iCAP Forum, run by Akamai and Network Appliance, and the Internet Streaming Media Alliance.

Ignore the naysayers, says Phil Rzewski, Inktomi senior architect at Content Networking Solutions Group and co-chair of the last two IETF meetings dedicated to creating a content peering group. Content Bridge, more organized than other groups, is squarely focused on peering, while also participating in the standards movement.