Alternative Methods

While there may be only three CDN service providers left, the edge content serving and caching technologies they provide will see increased use down the road, according to Williams. However, she believes that their core customer base won't grow much further than the most bandwidth-hungry sites. Other techniques, she says, can deliver just as much performance for lower traffic sites.

"You might want to do a little bit of mirroring your site in certain major locations," Williams explains. "You might want to do it for Europe, you might want to do one for Asia—but getting much more aggressive than that may not be necessary for most mid-tier and lower-end content sites on the Web."

Clifford Lopez, on the other hand, keeps Tribal DDB's site up to speed the old fashioned way. He deploys redundant bandwidth and boxes, and keeps a sharp eye open for any unexpected "Britney breakouts" or other spikes in traffic. CDN services, he maintains, don't provide bang for their buck.

"Their promise is that your user will notice that your site is not slow," he explains. "We think there are other ways to solve problems—and we don't have to spend extra money. Is it a perfect solution? No, but the Internet isn't perfect either. The Internet is a loose federation of pirate ships. We rely on other systems. That's what makes the Net grow; that's what makes it beautiful."

Caching and edge serving will continue to be a part of serving content and applications on the Internet, Williams says. "What [enterprises] are seeing is a need to optimize the use of their networks, so you'd imagine that caching equipment would be a totally viable way to do that."

Then again, Williams hastens to add, "it's not necessarily content distribution service from somebody like Akamai."

But even Clifford Lopez admits that a content distribution network is likely to creep into his infrastructure sooner or later. He continues to watch the nascent partnerships in the industry closely. "The minute you say 'no way' on the Internet, you're going to get burned," he says. "If [content distribution] becomes part of the hosting, database, or other service offering—not a line item—then OK. I'll try anything if it will help."

Jay Lyman is a reporter for NewsFactor Network, a daily technology news service.