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Customizing Customer Experience On The Net

The promise of a profitable, broadband Internet continues to elude service providers. Rapid advances in optical networking and a glut of rich media content being rushed to the Web have been fueling the bandwidth boom in our public networks. While service providers have been investing heavily in networking equipment seeing cumulative capital spending of over $100 billion this year the prospect of new revenue remains elusive, increased profits become more and more improbable.

Bandwidth has become a commodity, subsumed by the public's interest in content. Driving this "content boom" is a variety of factors:

  • The adoption of high-speed broadband access.
  • The outsourcing of business applications.
  • The increase of international connectivity.
  • An explosion in the volume of digitized content, new content locations and Web enabled access devices.

With the content boom, the focus of Internet infrastructure engineering is moving from bandwidth and connectivity to rich content delivery, driving a major market disruption for network equipment suppliers, service providers, content publishers and e-businesses alike.

What Do THEY Want The Internet To Be?
End users are looking for more from the Internet and are demanding better reasons beyond high-speed access to spend money with service providers. Besides speed, they want security, reliability and rich, relevant content all transparently delivered to whatever Internet access device they're using, anywhere, anytime.

Meanwhile, the content boom is overwhelming the content providers who not only have to worry about producing new, high quality content continuously but also need to mange the rapidly amassing volume of content. Different versions of content must be rendered for different audiences—on standard and wireless browsers, in different languages and with local cultural and geographic references. Managing and distributing this content has become an arduous task.

Simplifying content development, management and distribution are chief concerns for content providers, but so is reducing customer acquisition costs. Content providers today go to great lengths in targeting and acquiring identified customers because they are operating on an Internet where the actual customers are invisible. For example, the acquisition cost per subscriber for America Online is approximately $93 (Merrill Lynch, 2000).

Service providers also need to expand their revenue base and create new service offerings that allow them to differentiate themselves.

They understand that the connectivity business is difficult to sustain and content-based services are driving the new economy. Service providers want to deliver new managed hosting services based on intelligent content distribution, as well as leverage their subscriber base to provide audience-targeted content delivery.

Fortunately, the interests of end-users, content and service providers do converge, in matching each target Web user with content tailored to their preferences, access devices and service levels.

IP is Not Personal
Personalization is as much about responding to the needs of end users to easily get at the content they want as it is about addressing the needs of content providers to identify their target audience in order to create a unique, customized experience for them.

Unfortunately, the IP Internet makes personalizing content and services difficult for the providers.
With the virtualization of Web resources and the wide spread use of proxies, an IP address no longer uniquely identifies a Web user or destination.

Attributes about the user, his preferences and his requested content are embedded in protocols above the IP level, within the Web application session.

Since IP is blind to such information, directing user traffic to the appropriate content server must be shouldered by the applications.

Frequently, the network delivers a user request across the Internet only to have it redirected by the receiving server to another server elsewhere for fulfillment

The unnecessary processing and Internet trips degrade user response time and increase system overhead.
More seriously, users have lost shopping carts or were disconnected in the midst of a transaction due to misdirected requests, resulting in user frustration and lost opportunities for content providers.

To profit from the content boom, service providers must turn the current IP infrastructure into a personal content delivery network, enabling content providers to deliver each user relevant content, based on the user's preferences and the nature of his request, as quickly and directly as possible.

Beyond Content Publishing
The emergence of Content Delivery Networks (CDN) based on intelligent content caching and edge delivery is a first step in this direction.

CDNs are important to maximizing Web site performance and enhancing user's experience. They allow service providers to cache copies of the most popular Web content at traffic concentration points and deliver it from the closest proximity to the users. With popular content distributed to multiple points in the network, CDNs also improve content availability.

A basic function of a CDN is to route user requests to content sites that are nearest, in Internet terms, to the requesting users. To do this, the CDN must know where the requesting user is relative to each content location.
Better yet, if the CDN has the added intelligence to determine both the content being requested and the user's preferences, it can limit its site selection to locations that are capable of serving the relevant content.

Unfortunately, today's CDN services and products match requests to content sites without actually seeing the requests. Traditional methods to determine client proximity are based on the Internet's Domain Name Service (DNS), used to resolve Web site names to IP addresses.

Unfortunately DNS provides little or no visibility into the actual content (URL) being requested or any attributes of the requester (e.g. IP address, browser type, language, cookie, etc.) If a user is situated close to his DNS server, the CDN will make a site determination that is at least near the user. However, if the user is using a centralized DNS service from his service provider, then the resulting site selection is effectively random.

More importantly, selecting the request fulfillment site without actually seeing the user request means that each content site must be capable of serving all potential requests, including that for static objects, streams, wireless encoded content, etc. This certainly does nothing to help content providers ease content management and distribution.

In addition, applications that require user persistence will break, as the CDN has no way of guaranteeing that the same site will be selected for a given user over multiple transactions.

With such limitations, current CDNs can only distribute a small percentage of the entire content. While they have improved Web performance, they fail to address a key management user identification a fundamental element for personalized content delivery.

Getting Personal
The Personal Internet is a new approach that radically alters how users and content come together. To efficiently match up a user with the best content site, the network must know something about the user and the content being requested. Fortunately, this information can be found in each Web request.

Unlike conventional networking technologies that blindly switch packets at high rates, content-intelligent Personal Internet solutions, such as Layer-7 Web switches and content routers, classify Web sessions using information embedded in the body of the session and manage traffic to ensure end-to-end session integrity.

By parsing each user's request, the Personal Internet can determine the actual user's Internet location and measure the performance and reliability of the content sites relative to the user in real time.

In addition, the Personal Internet knows the URL being requested, the user's browser type and language, as well as other classifications based on embedded cookies in the user request. Such information can be used to further refine content site and content server selection, ensuring that users are connected to the right content in the most direct and speedy way.

Where's The Real Value?
Not only is the Personal Internet an essential next step in enhancing end-user experiences, it also helps content providers manage their ever growing volume of content.

Content-intelligent site selection allows content providers to distribute different parts of their content to locations near their target audiences.

For example, wireless encoded contents should be distributed to wireless POPs; on demand streaming content should be pre-positioned at highly concentrated viewing locations.

Besides offering intelligent CDN solutions, service providers at the subscriber edge can take personalization even a step further. They can provide the most customized level of service for their subscribers, including self-provisioned network services such as video conferencing and bandwidth on-demand, content services such as personal home pages and content filtering.

Besides creating new revenue opportunities for service providers, the Personal Internet also empowers them to team with content publishers to deliver value-added content to their subscribers.

For example, service providers can take advantage of their proximity to users to offer a slew of high-quality streaming media services. Based on agreements with their subscribers, service providers may increase their sources of revenue by offering to content providers and e-businesses services such as targeted ad insertion and portal steering.

The Nortel Networks Personal Internet portfolio is comprised of products at both the subscriber and content edge. These include:

  • Shasta 5000 Broadband Service Node
  • Shasta Personal Content Portals
  • Alteon Content-Intelligent Web Switches
  • Alteon Integrated Service Directors
  • Alteon Personal Content Cache and Content Distri-bution Management.

Thus, the customer is King and the content provider has to satisfy and sustain his interest for his own survival.

Information courtesy: Nortel Networks

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Copyright 2001: Indian Express Group (Mumbai, India). All rights reserved throughout the world. This entire site is compiled in Mumbai by The Business Publications Division of the Indian Express Group of Newspapers. Site managed by BPD