Jul 31

What Is A Content Delivery Network (CDN)?

Everyone website owner appreciates the importance of good website speed. However, not everybody is conversant with what a CDN is and its implications on a site’s loading speed. As such, this post will aim to explain what a CDN is, its benefits, whether you still have to purchase hosting if you already have a CDN, and if your website needs it. Therefore, we shall have a thorough overview of what this technology is and what role it plays in the modern web.

Additionally, we shall also briefly touch on the differences between a CDN and your web server in addition to looking at who needs this tool incorporated into their site and who does not.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) have changed the way websites are hosted over the last few years. Rather than relying on a single server to host your website, you can utilise CDNs to increase your site’s loading speed drastically through the distribution of your site’s data. They accomplish this feat by using server nodes that are spread out all over the globe to deliver data using the one closest to the user.

What is a CDN?

A content delivery network describes systems of interconnected servers situated around the world. It uses geographical proximity as the primary criteria for distributing cached web pages and their content to the end users.

When you utilise a CDN, your site’s content will be available on numerous servers across the globe. This increased availability facilitates the ease of distribution of content to users since they will be receiving the content from a server that is nearest to them.

As such, even in cases of limited bandwidth or an influx of traffic to your website, the user will still receive the requested content within a reasonable time, which is made possible by the CDN’s capability to calculate which server is closest to the requesting user. These calculations are what enable the CDN to distribute web content efficiently.

The implication is that the site visitor shall receive a copy of the data, that is located nearest to them, as opposed to accessing the same data from a central server, which is likely to result in jams near that server.

Consequently, the main reason behind using a CDN is to reduce the distance the requested content has to travel and, therefore, cut down on the number of hops that the data packet has to make. Subsequently, the loss of data packets is reduced, enhanced bandwidth optimisation, and minimised latency and time-outs. All these factors result in a site that is faster with enhanced performance, and will directly improve the visitor’s experience, which is the ultimate goal of any website owner.

Why Would One Need a CDN?

A CDN comes in handy if you are aiming to reach users around the world, as it makes your site’s content accessible to everyone. It provides your site with invaluable advantages such as an increased loading speed which results in a better site experience for the user. Additionally, it prevents your site from crashing since it distributes bandwidth across many servers instead of relying on one central server to handle all the traffic. This will improve your SEO since search engines rank fast websites higher. Ensure that you measure the right metrics when doing online marketing.

Faster load times are everything since even a one-second delay in page load time could result in a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and 11%  fewer page views.

Nevertheless, it would appear that the most significant advantage that a CDN offers you is that it prevents your site from crashing because it dramatically eases the load of traffic your central server handles. High volumes of incoming traffic might cause your website to crash.

How Does a CDN Work?

Most CDNs are operated as ASPs (Application Service Providers), which is a software as a service (SaaS). It began when a couple of internet network owners began designing their CDN with the goal of improving online content delivery to generate more revenue.

To minimise the distance between your site’s servers and its visitors, the CDN will store cached content from your site in multiple geographical areas in data centres referred to as POPs (Points of Presence). Each point of presence comprises numerous nodes and servers with some of them containing up to thousands of servers to help the distribute the content.

Thus, whenever a user requests to check out your website, this request is sent to a DNS server. A CDN will then redirect this request to the POP nearest to the visitor. The node, which is an edge server close to the visitor, is what will provide the visitor with the content.

The Techniques

CDNs utilise a variety of different techniques to optimise the content delivery process. These content networking techniques include:

Server-load balancing

Server load balancing utilises a content switch or web switch that is assigned a single IP address to share traffic among multiple web caches and servers. This switch usually directs the traffic assigned to it to numerous servers which then leads to improved load balance and scalability. Additionally, if a server fails, the switch will redistribute the load. This switch enhances reliability as it also provides health checks to the server.

CDN comicDilbert

Request Routing

Request routing refers to how the end user’s request is directed to the edge server or node that is closest to the user. To achieve this, it utilises several algorithms such as Dynamic metafile generation, Global Server Load Balancing, HTML rewriting, anycasting, and DNS-based request routing. You can use techniques such as connection monitoring, proactive probing, and reactive to calculate the user’s proximity.

Benefits of CDNs

The mobile- and app-based internet times are forcing more and more content creators, providers, and vendors to enhance their users’ experience by simplifying navigation and reducing the page load time. Slow load times can result in lower conversion rates since potential customers are turned off by websites that take a long time to load. As such, a CDN is a must-have utility for anyone who has interests in global internet connectivity.

Additionally, incorporating a CDN will affect everything. From your internal infrastructure to performance management, the cost of your IT staff and more. Nevertheless, the main advantages of using a CDN include:

Global Reach

Today, over 30% of the population in the world is online. Global internet usage has exponentially increased over the past few years and has created numerous investment opportunities as firms can easily advertise their products over the internet.

Nevertheless, without a CDN, effective content delivery will be all but a myth. CDNs offer solutions to the issues of latency that plague websites are trying to reach customers across the world. Therefore, by eliminating all problems that plague long-distance online transactions, CDNs enable businesses to acquire a global reach.

Internet StatsInternet World Stats

Reduce Latency

CDNs usually place and utilise servers at popular locations all over the world where they feature duplicate content. And because users will always have a server close to them, they will enjoy low latency rates, which means that packets of information will be uploaded and downloaded at enhanced speeds.

Distributed Data Centers

For instance, if your central web server is in Arizona, users from Asia and Europe will have to make many transcontinental electronic hops to access your content. CDNs, however, provide a localised data centre that is closer to the user and facilitates faster downloads.

Global Reach

Lower Network Load

Simply put, the lower your network loads, the better your site performs. A network overload usually happens during the peak hours when there are a lot of visitors to the site. This overload leads to the server’s resources being stretched to the limit and, thus, a significant decrease in the site’s performance. CDNs tackle this issue by redirecting users to their edge servers. The result is a balanced network load which means that there is lesser network disruption which enhances the user’s experience. The implication is more conversion rates.

Increased Reliability

Content that is viewed via a CDN is more reliable since it allows operators to maintain high service quality by delivering fast loading content or HD quality videos. The primary aim of a CDN is to speed up everything through acceleration technology, enhancing not only the performance of your site but also the reliability of your content, which results in better customer satisfaction.

Get Data Analytics

A lot of CDNs will give you your file usage reports because they typically charge per byte. You can use these reports to supplement your site’s analytics. On occasions, they may even provide better insight on video views and downloads. As such, you will be able to account for every cent that you used, and you can then use the analytics to analyse your performance metrics to improve further. Analytical information is what enables you to discover trends which may lead to more sales.

Search Analytics Report Example
Cost Savings

A CDN will reduce your overhead costs by cutting off the need to pay for an expensive foreign hosting. A global CDN provides a single platform that works across all regions for a sensible price. This platform is especially convenient for small web-based companies that have small budgets.

Security

DDoS attacks have been all the rage lately with organisations taking up arms to secure their systems from breaching, and with good reason. DDoS attacks will not only cost you an arm and a leg but will also tarnish your company’s reputation. CDN solutions will ensure that your website remains functional since their design makes sure that the attack is stopped even before it reaches the data centre, implying that you shouldn’t be concerned about a DDoS attack impacting your data.

What are the Different Types of CDN?

Peer to Peer

This one utilises peer to peer protocol, like the one used in popular torrents. Companies such as AT&T utilise this CDN technology for their content distribution. And because it doesn’t require a lot of resources, most CDN providers offer this service for free.

Push CDN

Here, the content is usually physically pushed to the CDN server. Amazon Cloudfront utilises this technique. So, if your site is relatively static and with huge files to download, this is the best option.

Origin Pull CDNs

This technology involves the CDN pulling content out of the primary servers and caching it, implying that when the user requests for this content, rather than getting it from the central server, the material will be pulled from the cached copies of the closest server. It is also referred to as Relayed CDN and is the most recommended for WordPress blogs.

  • Full Site Content Delivery CDN:
    Here, the whole webpage is pulled from the CDN.
  • Partial Site Delivery CDN:
    In this technology, only parts of the webpage are delivered via the CDN.

So, should you purchase web hosting if you already have a CDN? Yes, and here’s why. The kind of content served from the proxy servers that your CDN gives you access to is specific and includes CSS stylesheets, JavaScript files, images, and other media. However, you still need a primary server that will host the rest of your site.

As such, a CDN is meant to complement the traditional web server by boosting the performance of the website that is hosted on it. Therefore, without the standard web server, there wouldn’t be a website for the CDN to improve.

What Kind of Businesses Would Benefit From a CDN?

Even though a CDN will benefit any website, there are those that need this service more than others, and they include:

  • Traffic-heavy Sites
    Websites that receive a lot of traffic need this tool because they are likely to experience an overload which will result in downtime. Thus, they should use a CDN to ensure that the user’s experience isn’t compromised.
  • Rapidly Growing Businesses
    If you are about to launch a product and embark on a promotion that is likely to drive a lot of traffic to your site. Ensure that your website’s infrastructure is ready for this by implementing a CDN solution.
  • Sites that Use Media Items a Lot
    If your site is one that uses a lot of high-quality images, you should invest in a CDN solution to ensure that you do not compromise the site’s load time.

The benefits of a CDN solution, especially for websites aiming for a global reach, cannot be overstated. Today, consumers are increasingly demanding efficiency from all sectors. Thus, if your site takes more than a few seconds to load, they are likely to leave the page. Not only will this blow your chance of attempting a conversion but will reflect negatively on Google as well. Search engines do not favour sites that feature a high bounce rate. And even though you may have stellar content and products, the bounce rate will be interpreted as to not offering value.

Your SEO will be negatively impacted and your ranking in the results pages will go down. A CDN solution will mitigate these risks while enhancing your users’ experiences. You will get happier users who are more easily converted consequently leading to more sales.

About The Author

Ajay Chavda is the co-founder of Weboptimizers, an SEO agency in Melbourne and has been involved with SEO for over 15 years. Between the digital properties and security forums he has managed, his articles have been read by approximately 50 million unique visitors.

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