Content Delivery Networks are third party networks of servers where the data of websites are housed. CDNs act as the middle-man between media companies and network operators to get content distributed all over the world.
The demand for a CDN-type service actually came about after 9/11. Around the beginning of the 21st century, the demand for faster audio and video streaming was growing, but when the towers went down, news websites crashed. Apart from allowing your website to be viewed by people all over the globe, it also hosts it in more than one location so that servers don’t crash like they did during that crisis.
The general sentiment is quite utopian: a wholesome desire to make the internet as available, as fast, and as cheap as it can be for everybody across the globe. But of course, controversy intervenes often in these kinds of things. CDNs are being washed away as media companies become wealthy enough to house their own servers or skirt around the middle-man and create partnerships directly with network providers. This means smaller companies are at a competitive disadvantage because big companies can buy faster access for their audiences. CDNs also have begun using Peer to Peer connections, which basically means that every computer running a given program can be considered a “server” for it—the only problem with this as far as I could gather was that pirating becomes easier and people who make art really, really tend to dislike pirating.
As such, standards are not very… relevant. People are up in arms about Net Neutrality, so CDNs are also under the spotlight, but the main organization that discusses rules and regulation is the Content Alliance. Established in 2000, it’s a membership organization founded by many CDNs that discusses and attempts to regulate sources of content, quality of service, and business deals. This organization has no legal way to enforce these things, but it can create proposals for what should be standard for content distribution.
Content Delivery Networks, like everything else in technology, continue to evolve as a practice. They will definitely be around for longer: there are too many small companies that want their content distributed, but who don’t have the same money that bigger companies do to pay providers directly or to build their own servers. The options for CDNs must be getting fewer and fewer, though—seeing as so many big money companies are taking the back door, only the most successful of CDN companies will probably stick around in an important way.