July 2, 2019
7 min Read
July 2, 2019
7 min Read
A content delivery network (CDN) is a group of servers set up in different locations to provide web content over a wide geographic area.
They’re also called “distribution networks,” and the idea is to offer several points of presence (PoPs) outside of the origin server. This enables websites to better manage traffic by handling user requests faster, providing an overall more satisfying experience.
You’re using a CDN every time you visit a high-traffic eCommerce website like Amazon or catch up with your friends on Facebook. These data centers keep the world connected by bringing content closer to the people who need it regardless of the geographic locations of individual users or the main website server.
By spreading the delivery systems out over a large area, websites can reduce bandwidth consumption and page load times, shaving precious seconds off the time it takes to handle multiple user requests.
Before talking further about content delivery, we need to know what content is. It is any textual, auditory and visual element of a website: text, images, audio files, videos, and much more.
There are two types of content: static and dynamic. Content is called static when its original version (input) is what people actually see on the page (output). Simply put, it remains the same and unmodified. The server gives the same data to each user so that it is faster to deliver. The process is simple: a user requests a file from the web server, the server gives the file.
Dynamic content is any content that changes based on the input. It is personalized across pages, depending on user input. One example of dynamic content is a product page which consists of a product name, description, and price, including images. Another example is a web page which shows relevant information or records users’ interaction.
Cyberspace is a difficult enough concept for the average user to wrap their heads around. Sitting at your home in Anytown, USA, you type a request into a search engine or a web address into the URL bar, hit enter, and wait.
From some unknown location far away from you, your request is received. Billions of bits of information are distributed between to origin server and your computer or mobile device. This is hard enough to manage efficiently with static content. Most web pages contain hundreds of elements that range from plain text to interactive multimedia content.
It only stands to reason that the closer you are to the source, the faster your request can be granted.
Requests are handled by whatever network server is closest to the computer making the query. By caching data and spreading multiple requests for the same information over a network rather than a single server, the traffic load is more balanced. This eliminates old school problems like slow page loads, crashed browsers, and service disruptions.
The benefits depend on the size your website, its location relative to your core traffic source, and the amount of traffic generated. For example, a local business with a physical location that serves one small geographic area won’t benefit much from a CDN.
However, if you’re an eCommerce business owner who needs a wider reach, or your website generates heavy traffic from diverse locations for whatever reason, then a fast, efficient CDN will help you retain your competitive edge and provide the kind of UX that search engines and customers reward.
There are four main benefits of using CDN servers. Each of these builds on the other to help mitigate the problems of managing complex content and servicing high-volume traffic.
Effective content distribution networks should accomplish the following four things:
One of the biggest expenses with some hosting services is bandwidth. Conserving the amount of bandwidth it takes to handle your traffic by multiplying your points of presence keeps your costs down.
This is achieved through optimization tools like caching, which places data into temporary storage on different computers or mobile devices for ease of access.
One of the biggest contributors to high bounce rates is latency. This is the increased time it takes to transfer information from user to source and back again, and it’s caused by:
Many of these issues can be solved, or at least reduced, by using an effective delivery network.
When all of the data transfer is conducted from a single server, it increases your vulnerability to malicious events like denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and other vulnerabilities.
These are coordinated requests for information that are conducted from multiple locations and users at an appointed time; they can also deploy automatically through bots. The purpose is to cause the server to crash due to traffic overloads in order to make a political statement or just for the sake of making mischief.
They can continue for hours or even days, making the website inaccessible to legitimate traffic. Using DDoS filters and spreading queries over several locations helps prevent artificially created traffic explosions.
You can even use your CDN to keep hackers out and protect your sensitive data. This is achievable because CDNs continually refresh TLS/SSL certificates, providing higher authentication and encryption standards. They also deflect traffic away from your original server to proxies.
Heavy traffic loads combined with hardware malfunctions means more downtime than most websites can afford. By spreading the load over multiple content delivery systems, you’ll place less of a burden on your infrastructure and servers.
Now, who really needs a content delivery network (CDN)? Here are the businesses that need a CDN:
If you’re a skimmer like many people these days, here is some condensed info in the form of an FAQ about CDNs.
There are three ways that a solid CDN can increase your load times and overall speed.
Any B2B or B2C website that has a user base outside of their immediate geographic location could benefit from a CDN. They’re also helpful for bloggers and websites that have a high traffic volume.
Yes. Because they’re deployed at the edge of a wider network, they provide a secure buffer between your website, traffic, and any hostile actors. Think of your CDN as a security fence that surrounds the perimeter of your server network.
Content delivery networks speed delivery of information by sending and/or storing website content over a network of servers, allowing website visitors to access web pages from the closest available source.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) shield the user’s identity and use a range of servers in different locations to circumvent geographical and other restrictions on certain types of content. Both provide extra security and improve access, but for different purposes.
CDNs don’t host websites per se, but they can improve the performance of hosted servers by utilizing caching and other optimization methods to conserve bandwidth. They also improve speed and prevent problems like connection disruptions, lax security, and slow content delivery.
Content distribution networks can even work with your server because the hosting service provides you with a platform to host your main website, and a CDN provides the proxies to distribute it more efficiently. This serves visitors better while decreasing your cost of doing business.
They work with any desktop, laptop, or mobile device that can be connected to the internet. All of the processes are conducted from the source, not on the user end.
The popularity of CDNs and need for speed have caused a boom in the content delivery business. Like other types of service providers, not all CDNs offer the same level of service, benefits, or functionality.
Some CDNs are free, others are subscriber-based, and some offer both paid and premium service. Look into what larger providers like CloudFare have to offer.
A few things to consider are your budget and requirements, and that includes anticipated needs in the case of future growth.
Outside of these considerations, here is a list of features any good CDN should have:
Website ownership is all about gaining more traffic and managing it efficiently.
Research indicates that even a one-second delay leads to a 7 percent drop in conversions, an 11 percent drop in page views, and up to a 16 percent reduction in customer satisfaction (just ask Amazon.)
If you want to maintain your level of service as you grow your web presence, a reliable, scalable content delivery network is a worthy investment.
It will reduce the problem caused by latency and give your visitors the kind of speed, performance, and consistency they expect from a website in the 21st century.