SVG Europe Executive Interview: CEO Bob Lento discusses CDN expansion and emerging network requirements

Limelight Networks CEO Bob Lento at the company's offices in Covent Garden, London.

Limelight Networks CEO Bob Lento at the company’s offices in Covent Garden, London.

As 2016 draws to a close, SVG Europe is delighted to announce the beginning of a new, ongoing interview series with leading executives at its Platinum level sponsors. The first of these interviews features Bob Lento, CEO and Director of premier content delivery network (CDN) service provider Limelight Networks.

A prominent figure in IT and network technology for three decades, Lento made his name at the helm of his own company providing systems integration services to the computing sector. Subsequent roles included President of LAN Systems for Donnelly Enterprise Solutions Inc, and various leadership positions at ENTEX Information Services. Most recently, he was a senior executive at customer management services specialist Convergys Corporation.

Since joining Limelight Networks at the start of 2013, his stated focus has been on ‘driving innovation and product excellence, improving the customer experience to create customers for life, and driving profitable revenue.’ Not surprisingly, these themes featured prominently in Lento’s conversation with SVG Europe, which took place at Limelight Networks’ offices in Covent Garden, London, on 8 November 2016 and also covered the current growth of the CDN sector, emerging network requirements, and the rise of OTT and VR…

Can you recall the earliest days of your time with Limelight Networks?

For 15 years prior to joining Limelight I had been at Convergys, which specialised in large-scale billing systems for communication companies, and the truth is that I knew relatively little about what a CDN was! But I had learned about the importance of being disciplined and focused in terms of having a clear strategy, objectives and making sure that they are achieved.

So were your objectives coming into the business?

If you think back to that time it is clear that the internet was not as reliable as broadcast quality networks or telecoms networks, so a large part of the plan was to put in place the methodologies required to deliver greater network reliability and feature functionality. CDN is regarded by some as a commodity, but it’s the most complex commodity you will ever see in your life. There is so much engineering that goes into the process.

So over the last 3-4 years Limelight’s focus has been on growing the network in terms of reliability, performance and capacity. We have also worked on innovative feature functionality that, to some extent, puts users’ destinies in their own hands, which has translated to a lot of self-service functionality such as recording and analytics capacity. Our focus going forward is not going to be much different; we will continue to build quality of delivery and more capacity across more locations, and ensure that we can handle different types of content within the user cases we serve.

To what extent would you say that minimising latency and optimising scalability are key priorities?

Very much so. In terms of high quality video, there are a few issues that people really care about, namely the bit-rate, the quality of picture, and ‘do I get any buffering?’ Latency is one of the key factors here; if you get high latency you get lots of buffers. I can confirm that we are continuing to drive down latency across our network and we are doing that by modernising the network – buying new servers and taking out the old ones – and software engineering. So that means focusing on how we deal with congestion at certain times of the day and allowing our customers to adapt to changing circumstances.

In broadcast centres as a whole we see more evidence of increasingly unified network infrastructures. What’s your take on that?

Will there be standards? Yes. Will everyone do everything the same way? No. In fact, that is one of the great challenges of CDN; how to accommodate differences from customer to customer, while having some standards that can be leveraged for cost reasons. So that’s an ongoing mission for us.

Can you talk us through some of the milestones of 2016 for the company?

The resolution of a long-running lawsuit with Akamai was undoubtedly significant. I would also highlight the doubling of our network capacity in the space of a year. In part this is down to a sheer increase in hardware capacity, but it also owes much to improved software engineering that has also resulted in a greener set-up. We are smarter about how we utilise space and power.

We have also continued to add new locations and now have about 80 physical sites worldwide. In a lot of countries – such as Germany and France – we have added a second location to add to the first. We have also established further locations in the UK, where we are pushing on average five times as much traffic as at the start of 2014.

What’s on the agenda for 2017?

For us the next year will be about continuing to increase capacity and rolling out new self-service capabilities. We will also be taking more giant steps to up the [overall quality of video] to near-broadcast quality. In particular, during the first quarter of the year we will be implementing a new TCP stack that can be tuned to provide quality even at low bandwidth levels. I think that will be a real game-changer for us.

We will also be exploring new partnerships with companies who have complementary capabilities and with whom there will be no channel conflict.

Finally, what are your overall expectations for the market in 2017 – as well as OTT, VR and other fast-rising technologies?

There are a lot of very rosy forecasts for next year, but I don’t think it will be quite as good as some research would lead us to believe – although I am sure we continue to see healthy growth in the industry over time. In terms of [OTT and VR], I tend to find that these things take longer to achieve traction than is often expected. For example, OTT was predicted by some to be big early in 2015, but in fact it looks like it will only become meaningful in 2017. Similarly, with VR, it will start to make a mark in 2017 but it will take a few years to become meaningful. The devices have to get out there and people need a chance to learn how to use and become comfortable with them, and fully appreciate the business benefits.

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