When thinking about the performance of one’s Web site, it can often be complicated to figure out how best to optimize it, both in terms of its loading speed and security aspects.
Help in this regard can come from content delivery networks (CDNs), tools used to improve Web site performance by storing static content on servers scattered worldwide. This means that visitors download resources from a server as close as possible when they visit your site. This speeds up loading times for users, reducing latency and improving download speed. In this article, I will explain why you need a CDN and some valuable tips.
- What exactly is a Content Delivery Network?
- Do I Need a CDN?
- Benefits of a CDN:
- 1. Reduce server load
- 2. Improve site speed and performance
- 3. Improve site indexing on search engines (SEO).
- 4. Enable audience segmentation based on user analysis
- 5. Reduction of packet loss and network latency.
- 6. Enable advanced security on your website.
- 7. Improve the availability of content
- 8. Contribute to cost reduction by reducing bandwidth
- When do I not need a CDN?
- What are the most critical CDN providers?
- How much does a CDN cost?
- Examples with and without CDN
What exactly is a Content Delivery Network?
As mentioned above, a CDN is a distributed network of servers for hosting static resources, such as images, videos, etc. As close as possible to the users. This results in faster page load times and less server load than hosting these resources on a centralized server.
When a user requests a file from your website, he will not be returned the one on your hosting plan but rather the one stored on the CDN server closest to him (called PoPs, Points of Presence).
The benefits of using a CDN include faster site speed, lower management costs and improved content availability. These advantages are due to the CDN’s decentralized architecture and built-in redundancies that enable it to withstand large-scale outages.
Do I Need a CDN?
This is the most frequently asked question when it comes to CDNs. The answer can only be yes, with benefits applicable to most Web sites, regardless of their size or the traffic they generate.
Benefits of a CDN:
1. Reduce server load
Recall that a CDN comprises a geographically distributed network of content distribution servers. It is not just one central server that stores content, but client devices that retrieve data packets. This strategic placement of servers at a great distance ensures that no server is in danger of overloading. This frees up overall capacity by serving several concurrent users and reduces bandwidth and distribution costs.
2. Improve site speed and performance
This way, when the end user requests a page or content on the Web site, they do not have to wait for the request to reach the originating server. He can access the web content directly from the server geographically closest to him, minimizing the delay in loading resources and improving the user experience through better website performance.
3. Improve site indexing on search engines (SEO).
It can also help you avoid indexing penalties from Google, which is becoming increasingly strict on applying specific parameters such as loading speed, awarding better rankings for those with faster loading times.
4. Enable audience segmentation based on user analysis
One advantage of CDNs that is often overlooked is their ability to provide valuable information about the browsing public. Today CDNs are responsible for about half of the world’s Internet traffic, meaning they collect a large amount of user data. These data result in a rich source of information to be analyzed and used to make decisions.
Companies can use this information to enable their developers to optimize the website further, improve the user experience, and help increase sales and conversions.
5. Reduction of packet loss and network latency.
Information on the Internet is transmitted via packets. These are small units of data that contain miscellaneous information that must move across large distances and devices before reaching the end user, resulting in the possibility that some of it may get lost or delayed along the way, resulting in increased latency or arriving at the end user in a different order than expected (jitter). This results in a suboptimal user experience for the end user, especially when the transmitted content is high-definition video, audio, or live streaming.
6. Enable advanced security on your website.
An indirect benefit of CDN services is improved website security. Because CDNs help avoid web server overload by distributing content to their peripheral servers, they can also be a deterrent against cyber attacks that rely on sending spikes in traffic to source servers.
This is especially useful in the case of DDoS attacks, in which attackers aim to overload a DNS server by sending a large volume of requests. The goal is to bring down the server and, consequently, the website. Such downtime can result in economic losses for a company and reputational damage and lead to other more severe attacks and hacks. CDNs can foil such attacks by acting as a DDoS protection and mitigation platform, distributing the load equally over the full network capacity and protecting the customer’s hosting.
7. Improve the availability of content
Growing consumer needs require companies to ensure the high content available on their websites. The higher the volume of traffic, the greater the pressure put on the origin servers to prevent websites from crashing and keep content available.
Think of a company that provides video or audio streaming services to a large user base worldwide. The traffic load can often reach millions of requests per second, wildly if the content is trending or topical. This can cause the originating server to malfunction, causing an interruption in service and resulting in a poor experience and dissatisfied consumers. CDNs can distribute all this traffic throughout the infrastructure, enabling companies to improve content availability regardless of load. If a server crashes, other points of presence (PoPs) can retrieve the traffic and keep the service running without interruption. Some high-quality CDNs also have the feature of automatically detecting availability and immediately redirecting users and requests (load balancing), enabling 100 per cent daily availability (uptime).
8. Contribute to cost reduction by reducing bandwidth
CDNs also help reduce costs by optimizing the bandwidth used by the server. When the volume of requests for a website is consistently high, it can consume equally high bandwidth, driving up costs.
Using a CDN allows companies to avoid the costs of setting up infrastructure, hosting and servers worldwide. Instead, they will only have to pay based on traffic and the number of requests; some CDN providers offer more granular cost control with self-service and optimization functions to manage expenses based on the required performance.
When do I not need a CDN?
When you have a target customer base from a specific location and with the PoP provided by the CDN provider, that is more geographically distant from the hosting data centre.
For example, let us assume you have a dental practice in Vicenza as your business.
Having visitors from other locations may not be of primary interest; plus, if your hosting is on a Data Center in Milan and the PoP of the nearest CDN provider is in the Netherlands, your site may not benefit from loading speed. These are sporadic cases, as CDN providers usually have an extensive distribution of their server network. Still, in any case, these are situations that should be checked/analyzed in advance.
What are the most critical CDN providers?
The leading CDN providers globally are:
- Fastly CDN
- Amazon CloudFront
- Imperva CDN
How much does a CDN cost?
Prices can vary significantly from one provider to another; usually, almost all of them make available free services (e.g. Cloudflare) but with limited capabilities and are associated with mostly “static” sites, while for more complex ones, one must always refer to paid solutions with costs calculated according to traffic and type of place for an average expense usually around 200€/month.
However, before proceeding on your own, contacting your hosting provider and checking whether specific/dedicated solutions are available to avoid compatibility issues and unnecessary additional costs is always advisable.
Examples with and without CDN
Below are a few examples where you can evaluate the differences in performance/speed with and without the CDN enabled on the Web site of a client of mine operating in the hotel industry, with a SiteGround hosting plan and with Data Center in the Netherlands (tests performed using SpeedVitals).
CDN PoP: USA
CDN PoP: Brazil
CDN PoP: Australia
CDN PoP: Singapore