Faster Better Stronger: The Definitive Starter Guide to Content Delivery Networks

faster-better-stronger-the-definitive-starter-guide-to-content-delivery-networksDouble cheese pizza. Cookies stuffed with brownies. Movie theaters with recliners and booze. Sometimes a good thing just needs to be made even better. Like your website with a CDN.

What, precisely, is a CDN?

According to CDN provider Imperva Incapsula, a CDN or content delivery network is a globally distributed network of data centers that uses caching and content and network optimization tools to make your website or applications run faster and perform better than ever before. As its name implies, a CDN is designed to deliver a website’s content to its users efficiently.

How does a content delivery network deliver content?

When a website uses a CDN, each data center or proxy cache server in the CDN stores a website’s cacheable content. Every time a user visits the website, he or she is automatically redirected to the data center or server closest to them. This cuts down the physical distance between the user and the server, thereby cutting down how far data has to travel in order for requested pages and content to load for the user. This is the main way a CDN makes a website faster.

What qualifies as cacheable content?

For most standard CDNs, cacheable content is any content that is static. This includes CSS files, template images, JavaScript, videos and music. Advanced CDNs are also capable of caching dynamic content for as long as it remains unchanged thanks to machine learning technology.

Cached content being stored in the data centers is another main way CDNs make websites faster, as this eliminates trips to the origin server that would otherwise be required for retrieving requested content for users.

How else does a CDN speed up a website?

A content delivery network compresses CSS, JavaScript, HTML and image files for faster loading, strips unnecessary characters from source code and effectively manages a website’s multimedia content resources. CDNs also provide network optimization, optimizing network connections and reusing open sessions for maximum efficiency.

Why is site speed such a big deal?

Simply put, people are impatient. Recent studies have found that a mere one-second delay in page load time corresponds with a 16% drop in customer satisfaction. In fact, 60% of online shoppers are only willing to wait five seconds for a page to load completely, while a further 27% will only wait three seconds. There are so many competing websites these days that users and customers have a wealth of options at their fingertips. They don’t have to wait, and by and large they simply aren’t.

Site speed is also a major factor when it comes to search engine rankings. There are other important factors of course, like quality of content, but generally the faster your website is, the better it’s going to rank.

What other benefits does a CDN offer?

By making your website more efficient, a CDN greatly reduces bandwidth bills, in some cases by up to 70% which translates to major savings. A content delivery network also provides built-in load balancing thanks to its multi-server environment, helping to ensure that no one server will become bogged down with traffic. This also naturally provides some protection against DDoS attacks, however advanced CDNs will offer added DDoS protection and other integrated security.

So who needs a content delivery network?

Anyone who would benefit from having a faster website. Which is pretty much anyone who owns a website. But if you want to get more specific, and you’re certainly entitled to that, e-commerce website owners will definitely benefit from a CDN, as will anyone using SSL as a CDN will make up for the extra time it takes to establish secure connections with each user’s browser.

Websites that draw international traffic are also major beneficiaries of a CDN’s abilities, as are websites that are prone to natural bursts of high traffic. Websites in competitive industries that may be at an increased risk of DDoS attacks will also want the built-in load balancing and DDoS protection that comes with a good CDN.

But, in short, if you have a website and you want to keep your users happy while improving your SEO, cutting your bandwidth bills and protecting against DDoS attacks, a CDN is something you want to consider. Because good things can pretty much always be made better. Except for maybe Haagen Dazs ice cream, but there’s no need to split hairs here.

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