As companies have increasingly realized the value of geographically distributing their infrastructure in recent years, one of the most important technologies is the content delivery network (CDN). The use of CDNs, simply put, has been skyrocketing. Let’s look at what this solution is, how broadly it’s used, and why it is important for your business.
- What is a CDN?
- Astronomical growth of content delivery networks
- Improvement over traditional web hosting
- Relationship between time and distance
- Transfer limitations
- More than one location for a faster site
- Distributed file transfer for better delivery to more users
- Accelerating your business with a CDN
Think about a day in which the Internet is just a bit more rapidly responsive. You go online, type a URL into your browser, and everything pops up instantaneously. For anyone who has ever railed at their computer for taking too long to load a page, you can imagine how great that user experience would be. Although the Internet isn’t currently beyond the issue of long load times, we now have the means to accelerate the Web more than ever before. A chief technology in this category is the content delivery network, or CDN.
What is a CDN?
A content delivery network is a vast, integrated network of servers that cache the files of your site and use IP location to determine which machine sends visitors your content.
You have multiple versions of the same files stored on servers that are intentionally positioned in or near high-traffic areas worldwide, explains Margaret Rouse of TechTarget. “CDN management software dynamically calculates which server is located nearest to the requesting client and delivers content based on those calculations,” she says. “This not only eliminates the distance that content travels, but also reduces the number of hops a data packet must make.”
There are multiple advantages to this strategy actually, not just speed. You don’t experience as much packet loss. Your bandwidth is better utilized. You are able to reduce jitter, latency, and time-outs. Beyond this IT jargon, you are simply able to better meet the needs of your users, so a CDN should effectively boost your engagement and revenue. Furthermore, if you experience a breach or systemic failure, at least some of your traffic will still be able to access your site’s content.
Astronomical growth of content delivery networks
If this system sounds compelling to business, well, it certainly is, according to the growth of the industry. Incredibly, market growth for CDNs is expected to increase from $4.95 billion to $15.73 billion between 2015 and 2020, says analyst MarketsandMarkets. Yes, that’s more than tripling. It adds up to an eye-popping compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.0%.
OK, so CDNs are trendy, but we all know popularity isn’t everything. Let’s look more closely at why this model might be useful to your business.
Improvement over traditional web hosting
If you are currently using traditional web hosting, here is why it makes sense to implement a CDN. In the old-school hosting model, your files (HTML, images, CSS, etc.) are all stored in one datacenter. When current users or potential customers come to your site, everything has to be sent out from that one “data home office.” Having your information and content centralized rather than dispersed internationally is problematic for a few reasons, as touched on above and further described below.
Relationship between time and distance
As an example, perhaps your traditional datacenter is in Texas. Whenever anyone wants to access your site, they are asking your Texas servers for the content. The amount of time it takes between the request and retrieval will grow the farther away a person is from Texas, because the files actually have to be sent that 500 or 1000 or 6000 miles. That means your website does not load as quickly for people who are at more of a distance. Australians, for example, will get an awful user experience compared to Texans.
“Consider a situation when multiple users are all trying to load your website at the same time,” notes Lukas Rossi in How to Get Online. “Just as your personal computer has limitations as to how fast files can be transferred across the network (throughput rate), servers also have limitations as to how fast they can transfer files.”
Traditional web hosting is not as able to scale to handle peaks in demand. That’s particularly the case with shared hosting, in which you often aren’t given guaranteed transfer rates. With any traditional hosting, your transfer rate will sometimes impede your ability to deliver a professionally reliable, strongly performing website to people who want to see it.
When you recognize the fact that this issue arises with traffic spikes, think Black Friday or whatever your “high season” is. Traffic rises, and your load times go down, because content is being delivered to a large number of interested parties simultaneously. In other words, it’s when your site has to really “have its game-face on,” and instead (in this scenario), you are slow and losing customers.
Moving beyond this comparison to traditional hosting, let’s look again at the particular strengths of a CDN.
More than one location for a faster site
Think about a user who is at a great distance from your web host’s datacenter. That person has to wait, perhaps frustrated and impatient, as your site loads, waiting for files to arrive from some faraway place.
On the other hand, “[a] CDN will serve content from an edge server that is either closest to or most efficient for each individual end user, based on where they are located in the world,” explains Rossi. “For example, if someone in China were to load your website, the CDN might automatically load a copy of your website’s content from a server in China.” For someone who is in England, a UK-based server within the CDN network would deliver the site instead.
All of this process occurs behind the scenes. In a way, you can think of a CDN as a form of automated UX customization, similar to marketing tactics such as behavioral targeting (in which users are targeted with ads based on how they’ve previously interacted with your site). The CDN figures out which server is best to serve that particular user. In fact, a high-quality CDN will go beyond distance and include the availability of network servers as a factor, so that speed is always optimized for the most efficient possible use of your site.
Distributed file transfer for better delivery to more users
As indicated above, servers are machines with specific parameters on data transfer. A content delivery network makes your site load fast consistently regardless of how many people are trying to use it at a given time.
Because of the basic architecture of a CDN, numerous people coming to your site at once will mean that various servers in different locations will be utilized, Rossi comments. “In this way, one particular server is not flooded with all of the requests from users,” he says. “CDN providers will also implement other procedures in order to ensure that your files will load efficiently even amidst a spike in traffic.” As a basic example, if a New York server is being hit particularly hard and a DC one is available, the CDN will be able to calculate when to shift a New York request to DC for better performance.
Accelerating your business with a CDN
Are you interested in optimizing your performance, improving your security, and enhancing your redundancy with a content delivery network? At Total Server Solutions, our CDN nodes are close to your customers, wherever they are. Get the reach you need.