Highwinds vs Edgecast : For Video Delivery

For all the threads Sitepoint has, I’m blown away that there aren’t more involving CDNs, since they seem to be the option a lot of the bigger blogs are turning to now for content delivery. While I use a CDN strictly for video delivery, I’m happy to point out that this will be one of the few threads on the net that compares Highwinds and Edgecast from the point of a user.

For a bit of background, I used Highwinds for over a year and have only been using Edgecast for a few weeks. So, I might update this thread with new bits of info as they come, but here’s what I can comment on so far.

In short, this is a comparison between Highwinds and Edgecast.

Front End - User Interface
Highwinds uses Striketracker, and I was on the older version of that system. The one major flaw that I can point out is that the system provided NO statistics on current bandwidth usage (or any bandwidth usage for that matter). Since I’m billed for overage on my 95/5, you’d think that would be important enough to have. The GUI of it is sort of a clusterf*ck to use. Edgecast interface was like a breath of fresh air. There is my 95/5 clear as day (given proper priority) and I can get a basic understanding of what I should be doing while logged into my Edgecast admin account. In terms of User Interface, Edgecast is the victor by far. But I should put an asterisk here, as I never used the updated version of the Striketracker system from Highwinds, which might have been cleaner and a little better to use.

Winner: Edgecast (but with an asterisk)

Setup - Deployment - Tokens
Setup was a lot easier with Edgecast, but that could be because I had done it before. Both Edgecast and Highwinds allow you to rsync your content onto their services; if you are using their storage services also, which I do. Highwinds does NOT allow you to rsync back off, which leads to a huge headache if you decide to change CDNs. In this case, be sure to get all your content off and have your other CDN setup and running before your contract ends with Highwinds. They instead require you to ship them an external harddrive and they will ship that wherever you like. I found it a bit unnecessary (rsync would have been simple), but whatever.

In terms of Tokens, Edgecast was so much easier, and the clear victor in this regard. Highwinds tokens required a bit more coding on the backend to get working – though anybody proficient with PHP should figure it out with their instruction – while Edgecast provides a number of ways to create the tokens including a simple module you can install into your linux platform that makes token creation down to a single line of code; a single function actually. A greatly appreciated the fact that I was able to delete a bunch of code once used for token creation.

Winner: Edgecast

Uploading - FTP
This was a major issue we had with Highwinds. Since we are using them for storage and typically dealing with larger files (video), we had to keep some of our own local video servers for large files as it was just too slow to upload to Highwinds. My connection allows for a max upload speed of 5mbps, and I was getting about 1.1mbps for Highwinds. My admins that were also uploading by FTP were having the same issue. It was slow. We also noticed that folders having over 5K files in them took forever to open on FTP (over five minutes), creating further delays. I was told we could get better upload speeds if we changed to another Highwinds destination to upload to, but it would take over 15 minutes for that site/FTP to sync and eventually be available for use/pull. In terms of Edgecast, we still see slow folders populating during peak periods, but we’re talking closer to 10 seconds max instead of five minutes.

When it comes to uploading on FTP, Edgecast blows Highwinds out of the water, with upload speeds achieving 5.6mbps. That is the max my connection will allow, so I’m wondering how much faster we could get if there was a better upload rate on our end.

Winner: Edgecast

Redundancy - Cache - Sync
This one is tough for me to review right now for Edgecast, but there are some things worth mentioning. First, something weird happened when I was with Highwinds that took all our video content offline for about 6 hours. All of it. I have no idea why, and I confirmed with a number of site users across the globe that videos were no longer working; even though Highwinds tried to assure me that the outage was just West Coast US. I was pissed, and threw up this complaint on Sitepoint: http://www.sitepoint.com/forums/showthread.php?754407-CDN-to-Avoid-Highwinds-(review)

I’m glad to say that issue never happened again, and everything ran fairly smoothly from that point on, though our idea of redundancy with a CDN went out the window.

Another issue we had with Highwinds, that was present always, was the delay of loading new videos. I get that the content needs to sync/cache to a local pop on first request, but every video seemed to have a delayed response time lasting up to 20 seconds for the first hour or so of its addition. While this doesn’t sound like much of an issue, we got complaints from users who thought the video was broken before giving that delay a chance to rectify. It was also common to see a video take a good five seconds before loading even days after. I don’t know what the deal was, but it was a minor annoyance for sure.

With Edgecast, every video responds incredibly quick. I upload it, add it seconds later for users to access, and it loads immediately with the first pull. No weird delays. Our complaints on this matter have disappeared.

Winner: Edgecast

Transit Speed
Another one that’s hard to review, since I can only state what I’m seeing from California. In this regard, Highwinds and Edgecast seem to download/load at the same speeds; but Highwinds might have been a smidgen faster for me. I did some polling from our users and, as expected, some claim that download speeds have gone up dramatically with the change to Edgecast while others claim that the content seems to be loading slower. People in Australia claim that both CDNs suck for them, so I don’t know what the deal is there.

Winner: Tie (with a tiny edge to Highwinds)

That’s my minor review. If you have any questions feel free to post them. I’ll update the review down the road once I get more of an experience with Edgecast.


First Update: Bonus Points for EdgeCast!

I forgot to mention that Highwinds had me jumping through hoops to get my content moved off their network. What started with them not allowing rsync off (though I could rsync on), eventually led to me shipping an external hard drive for them (Highwinds) to load my data onto. They did so, but then had no way to get the external hard drive back to me. After a bit of begging/complaining on my part, they finally agreed to send me my external harddrive if I paid the shipping. I get times are tough, but it did feel childish (cough cheap) since I was paying for two months of bandwidth (a little over $3K) that I would not be using. Shipping was ~$30, and they did ship directly over to Edgecast.

Edgecast got in touch with me earlier this week asking what I wanted to do with the external hard drive now that they’ve transferred the data, with the option of sending it to an office close to me for pickup. After finding out where I lived, they decided to have one of their own employees hand deliver the drive to my house.

Now that’s customer service!

So I guess… Winner: Edgecast