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Voxel: Why Is CDN Pricing So Mysterious?

Voxel is publishing prices for its CDN service, in hopes he creative transparency and pricing across the CDN industry.

When you visit the homepage of a web hosting provider, it's not hard to find pricing information. Most hosting companies provide clear and detailed information about their plans and features and how much they cost.

Why isn't the same information available for content delivery networks (CDNs)? That's what Raj Dutt wants to know. Dutt, the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Voxel, wants to make CDN pricing information more broadly available, as it is in the web hosting business. It's not a coincidence that Voxel started life as a managed hosting provider that has recently entered the CDN business.

Voxel publishes the prices for its Voxcast Content Delivery service, offering four account tiers that allow customers a per gigabit rate based on volume, with low volume accounts starting at $.40 a gigabit. No contract is required, and customers must be willing to prepay for the traffic.

"Corporations like Akamai and Limelight keep their pricing very close to their chest," said Dutt, referring to market leaders Akamai Technologies (AKAM) and Limelight Networks (LLNW). "It's not the way hosting or bandwidth is sold. We want to bring more transparency and openness to the CDN market. Our pricing is on our website and you can go and look. That's how each gigabit has been sold."

There's no question that CDN pricing can be complex, and that services, plans and technologies can vary significantly among providers. Dutt agrees that the offerings may vary, but says that's also true of the hosting and bandwidth markets, where pricing information has been more widely available.

One of Voxel's early initiatives was to offer promotional pricing to customers using Amazon's S3 storage service as a makeshift content delivery network. "We have a lot of customers using S3," said Dutt. "We think S3 is a really cool product, but it's not a CDN. We went to our mutual customers and basically ported them onto our CDN. We made it available and matched the S3 price."

Dutt founded Voxel in 1999 in Troy, N.Y. "We found a niche in high-bandwidth Linux hosting," said Dutt. "We were already doing so much high-bandwidth infrastructure, so a CDN was a natural progression." The company has 14 points of presence (POPs) worldwide, and peering arrangements with many providers. "More than 50% of our traffic goes over private peering, as opposed to the public Internet."

Voxel is perhaps best known for hosting political websites, including the DailyKos blog and Presidential campaign websites for Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel and Wesley Clark, as well as, Kuro5hin, SportsBlogs and the Mochila ad network. Voxel also powers lag-sensitive game server hosting providers including Velocity Servers, TeamSpeak, ClanWarz Gaming and Defcon Servers.

Dutt says more hosting providers may add CDN capabilities. "There are a lot of companies who need CDN services," he said. "Hosting companies are having to provide a complete scalability path for their customers. Traditional hosting companies are starting to do more high-bandwidth applications."

Adding content delivery services isn't always simple for site owners. "The market is confusing," said Dutt. "You have to deal with a CDN, a colo vendor, or maybe even a web developer. It becomes complicated to glue it altogether. That's the pain point right now."

But Dutt is confident that CDN services will become more user-friendly, with both pricing policies and cost becoming more accessible to entry-level customers. "It's not that complicated to deliver raw bits," he said. "It's not really special, and pricing will come down quite a bit."

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