As Director of Solutions Architecture at Highwinds who works with many of our large gaming customers, I’m often asked to explain the difference between Highwinds GDN™ – Game Delivery Network and Highwinds CDN – Content Delivery Network. Our GDN is much more than just the CDN.
It includes an integrated set of solutions for managing and executing online game delivery. The products that make up the GDN include a download manager, patcher, launcher, analytics, and of course, the download and delivery services that are powered by the Highwinds CDN.
To go beyond CDN and create something that truly deserved to be called a Game Delivery Network, we had to first and foremost develop a laser focus on the gaming community. It is our business focus at the executive level, our product focus as a development group, our performance focus as a network management team, and our passion as gamers.
Our company’s goal is to know the space inside and out, to provide products and features specific to gaming distribution needs, and to tune our network, hardware, and peering relationships to maximize our ability to provide the performance characteristics that are best for gaming users.
For gaming customers that only need delivery, and are really just comparing CDNs, the GDN typically outperforms all others. Here’s why: Highwinds is made up of developers, patent holders, network operations experts and skilled software engineers. Our CDN is not just a pile of off-the-shelf servers connected over shared waves. We own and operate our own network. Our 70 plus physical locations on four continents are connected via private, 10 Gbps, ringed and redundant pipes. The software stack that we’ve developed over the last ten years has been tested, improved, enhanced and matured over that time.
As we are focused on gaming, we dove deep into the server to optimize for throughput, not just response time. For CDNs that are focused on web acceleration and advertising, response time is their key metric. Even when doing video delivery, most streams top out around 2 Mbps, and users don’t typically watch video any faster than “real-time”, so the incentive to ensure that every user can exceed speeds of 2.5 Mbps simply isn’t there. For gamers that are downloading massive packages of creative content, the difference between a 3-hour download and a 6-hour download can have an enormous impact on the bottom line.
In order to push these barriers, we left no stone unturned – we tuned the TCP stacks on our servers, worked with our network equipment vendors, our server hardware vendors, modified OS kernels, rethought the “established” approach to global server load balancing, and developed a unique approach to performing layer-7 load balancing within our POPs. The result is a high-performance network that is built for pure, unrelenting speed.
HTTP Sustained Throughput, North America – Cedexis Radar
Another key difference about the GDN versus other CDNs is that we have worked with top online gaming customers for nearly seven years. Over this time, we have collaborated with them, listened to their needs and taken a very scientific approach to optimizing our network based on data they provide about their actual customers. It’s no secret that we work with Valve Software to support the Steam platform.
When our partners at Valve looked at the detailed performance data that was available to them through their platform, and then asked to us build a POP in Stockholm because they saw a need to improve performance in that region, we did. The result was an improvement in delivery speeds for their customers, and incidentally, all of our gaming customers.
This type of communication and activity is happening every day with dozens of our gaming customers. As a multi-tenant system, everyone that is a member of the GDN benefits from these improvements.
In addition to taking a collaborative approach with our customers, we’ve also looked to the ecosystem of gaming technology providers to layer additional products and services into the GDN offering. This ecosystem allows us to provide an ever-growing list of enhancements and a stack of tools that cover the most commonly needed features for game distribution.
The list currently includes GDN products such as:
- A wide range of analytics and logging to track user interaction from the moment they click, all the way through gameplay actions.
- Multi-provider performance enhancements that can shape and balance distribution traffic.
- Game launcher and patching tools.
- Help with implementing monetization tools and strategies.
- Gamer-to-server matching services.
- Professional services from experienced distribution veterans to help manage and execute your game launches.
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By Barry Whitley, Director of Solutions Architecture