What Is A CDN: 7 Things You Should Know in 2023
While everyone seems to have a website nowadays, it’s not uncommon for site owners to realize that their website isn’t loading as fast as they would like it to after they launch it.
While some of the best web hosting services provide features that enhance site speed, factors such as image size and file format can affect load times.
That said, going for cheap web hosting service does have a time and place.
Still, if you want your website to be snappy and responsive, you’ll need to consider a solution that focuses on providing a user experience that’s second to none.
Whether it’s an OTT platform that aims to deliver an amazing user experience or an eCommerce site that needs to ensure fast page load times to keep customers coming back, a content delivery network or CDN can be the answer.
In this article, I’ll look at precisely what a CDN is, how it works, and its various benefits.
I’ll also explore which types of businesses are the best fit for a CDN due to the way it can potentially improve their website’s performance.
Let’s dive deep into this topic.
What Is A Content Delivery Network?
A CDN is a network of servers used to deliver content to users.
A CDN’s primary purpose is to improve a website’s performance by reducing the distance between the server and the user.
CDNs often deliver static content, such as images, videos and other media files.
However, they can also deliver dynamic content, such as HTML pages and CSS files.
CDNs are typically used by large websites that receive a lot of traffic.
Since the content is delivered from a server close to the user, it can reduce the amount of time it takes for the content to load, which is critical for sites with a lot of traffic.
How Does A CDN Work?
A CDN works by caching the content of a website on its servers.
When a user requests a page from the website, the CDN will serve the cached content instead of fetching it from the origin server.
This reduces the distance between the server and the user, improving the website’s performance.
Content delivery networks can also improve a website’s performance by delivering content from multiple servers.
This is known as server-side load balancing.
Having a CDN found on a geographically distributed network of servers can further improve performance by ensuring that users can always connect to a server (or multiple ones) close to them.
How Can CDNs Benefit Websites And Online Platforms?
A content distribution network can improve web traffic in various ways, providing many benefits for businesses and organizations.
These are some of the major ones.
Decrease Server Load
As mentioned, a content delivery network CDN enables caching of content on its servers.
Caching servers allow for the storage of frequently accessed files to be quickly retrieved when needed.
This reduces the time it takes for the content to load, improving the user experience.
Better Insights About Traffic
Internet content spread across multiple CDN servers also gives website owners better traffic insights.
Since CDNs keep track of the requests made to their servers, this data can be used to understand where traffic comes from and what kind of content is being accessed most frequently.
This information can be used to improve the website or make changes to the content that is being delivered.
A core network infrastructure that allows edge servers to distribute content closer to users can improve a website’s search engine optimization efforts.
With search engines and their algorithms prioritizing fast-loading website times, CDN users might experience higher rankings for set keywords.
When sites reduce bandwidth consumption, this can also improve dwell time on such site.
This is key for those using their mobile network data (which is typically not be as fast as Wifi internet) while on the go.
In addition, having website resources load up quickly can also keep users engaged on the site for more extended periods.
With the amount of time spent on site being a factor that search engines also consider, this might be another reason to consider a CDN if SEO is vital for your digital marketing strategy.
Decreased Load Times And Latency
A globally distributed network of servers can also decrease load times and latency.
Your website performance depends on various elements found in your code and content.
One of these elements is the time it takes for a DNS lookup.
DNS hosting services convert a domain name into an IP address.
This process can take time, mainly if the DNS server is far from the user.
However, if your website uses a CDN, the DNS lookup will occur on the server closest to the user.
This will, again, improve the overall performance of your site.
More Simultaneous Users
Being able to load web content faster through nearby CDN edge servers also means that your web hosting provider might be able to handle more users on your site at the same time.
This can be highly beneficial if your website is very popular and gets a lot of traffic.
Control Of Access And Performance In Different Regions
You’ll have more control over how users in different regions experience your site through various operational servers in specific locations.
Whether you want to restrict a webpage based on the user’s location or have a web application that shouldn’t be accessible in certain areas, a CDN can help you do that.
New Data Transmission Technologies
As technology evolves, servers that were only meant to handle HTTP requests might be unable to keep up with the demand.
When it comes to the end-user, this means that they’ll likely experience slow loading times.
CDNs can help alleviate this problem by using new data transmission technologies designed to handle more traffic.
Usage Of HTTPS and HTTP/2
As a follow-up to the previous point, website security can be enhanced through HTTPS, a protocol that encrypts data.
HTTP/2 is the latest version of the HTTP protocol, and it’s designed to improve the performance of websites.
Both protocols can be used with a CDN to improve a website’s security and performance.
Easily Manage Traffic Peaks
All websites experience peaks and valleys in terms of traffic.
For example, a website might get a lot of traffic during the day and then less at night.
Data centers add to a CDN’s functionality by allowing website owners to manage these traffic peaks easily.
DDoS refers to distributed denial-of-service and happens when multiple computers are used to flood a server with requests to overload it.
Having other operational servers that can kick in if the primary server is under attack can be highly beneficial.
With increased points of presence as part of your CDN, you can optimize the user experience to ensure that even if one server is down, the others can pick up the slack.
This also decreases any downtime that website owners with a CDN in place might have had to experience.
Disadvantages Of CDNs
The above list of benefits is quite comprehensive and paints a picture of how CDNs can be highly advantageous.
However, no technology is perfect, and CDNs do have their fair share of disadvantages that one must consider.
Here are some of the cons associated with CDNs.
Bandwidth costs will increase when using a CDN since data has to be transferred to the various servers that make up the network.
With origin servers (the servers that host the website’s content), bandwidth is only used once since the content is only transferred from the server to the user.
With a CDN, however, bandwidth is used multiple times as content has to be transferred from the origin server to each CDN server and then from those servers to the user.
A web server with access to more sensitive information is a bigger target for hackers.
Since CDNs are made up of multiple servers in different locations, this increases the surface area for potential attacks.
Since adding CDN providers typically involves working with another company in addition to your hosting provider, this can add some extra steps and complexity to the web hosting process.
You’ll need to ensure that you’re working with a reputable provider and that they have all the features you need for your website.
Integration With Current Systems
Making everything work together in one cohesive unit can sometimes be challenging since you’re dealing with two separate systems.
As such, you might need to invest in additional software or hardware to ensure everything integrates smoothly.
How To Decide If You Need CDN Services
There are many different CDN service providers available, and it’s essential to do your research to find one that’s right for you.
Here are some top considerations to go through when deciding if a CDN might be needed for your website.
If your website content is significant or if you have a lot of traffic, then a CDN can be beneficial as it can help improve loading times and manage traffic peaks.
If security is a concern for your website, then using a CDN in conjunction with HTTPS and HTTP/2 can help to keep your site safe.
Mitigation against DDoS attacks and increased uptime are good reasons to consider using a CDN.
Finally, if your website targets a global audience or has a significant physical distance between your server and your users, then a CDN can help improve the user experience.
In terms of top providers that can help you get started, Cloudflare, Sucuri, and StackPath are good ones to consider.
Types Of Companies That Can Benefit From A CDN
Further to the previous point, not all companies need a CDN; in some cases, it might not even be beneficial.
However, certain types of companies, or industries, can surely benefit from using a CDN.
Here are some of the ones that should consider such a solution.
Routing traffic to the closest server is essential for e-commerce sites as it can help to improve loading times.
A CDN can also be beneficial for managing traffic peaks, which can often happen during sales or other promotional periods.
Using a CDN can also help to ensure that visitors have a positive experience on your site and are more likely to complete a purchase.
Bots and other automated attacks often target financial institutions.
A CDN can help mitigate these attacks by providing a secure firewall and blocking malicious IP addresses.
This can help to protect both the institution and its customers.
Media Or News Sites
News sites often have a large number of visitors and need to be able to handle spikes in traffic.
A secure firewall for media or news sites is also essential, as hackers often target these sites.
This type of site will often be targeted by those who want to disrupt or interfere with the operations of the government.
With distributed denial-of-service attacks becoming more common, it’s essential to have a solution that can help eliminate (or reduce) these types of attacks.
If the user base of a mobile app is spread across multiple countries, then a CDN can help improve loading times for those users.
For example, social media platforms often use CDNs to ensure that content is delivered quickly to users worldwide.
Similar to social media sites, companies that offer SaaS solutions can benefit from using a CDN.
This is because it can help improve loading times for users across multiple geographical locations.
With some of these apps needing instant response times, a CDN can help ensure users have a positive experience with SaaS products.
Video Streaming Sites
Having response times that are close to real-time is essential for video streaming sites.
With the types of content that these sites typically host, even a slight delay can hurt the user experience.
Key Features When Choosing A CDN
Knowing which features are essential when choosing a CDN can help make the decision-making process more manageable.
Here are some of the key features to look for in this regard:
- Reporting and Analytics: The ability to generate reports and analytics is essential for understanding your CDN’s performance. Look for a CDN that offers detailed statistics, real-time monitoring, and log files.
- APIs: If you’re planning on using a CDN with other services or applications, it’s essential to ensure that the CDN you choose offers APIs. This will allow you to integrate the CDN with other systems you currently use.
- The Design and Architecture: A CDN’s design and architecture can significantly impact its performance. Make sure to look for a CDN with a well-designed system to handle your expected traffic.
- DNS and Other Critical Setups: DNS is critical to how a CDN works. Make sure to choose a CDN that offers DNS management and other essential features such as SSL and edge servers.
- Traceroute: Traceroute can be used to test the path that data takes from your server to the user’s device. This can be useful for troubleshooting purposes or understanding how the CDN impacts different geographical areas.
- Security: Security is an important consideration when choosing a CDN. Make sure to look for a CDN that, at the very least, offers DDoS protection and a secure firewall.
- Number of Servers and Distribution Speed: The number of servers a CDN has can impact its performance. More servers can mean more distribution speed and better resilience. However, it’s essential to ensure that the servers are strategically located.
- Flexibility and Customization: Flexibility and customization are essential considerations when choosing a CDN. Look for a CDN that offers custom CNAMEs and geographic targeting features.
- Customer Support Availability: It’s essential to choose a CDN that offers customer support in case of any problems. Make sure to look for a CDN that provides 24/7 customer support.
A CDN can be a valuable addition to your website or mobile app.
It can help improve loading times, security, and overall user experience.
A CDN is therefore worth considering for business owners who want to improve how they run their business.
As mentioned, many options are available if you’re looking for a CDN provider, so be sure to do the proper research before making a decision.
Have you ever used a CDN in your business?
What has your experience been like?
Let me know in the comments below.
Further reading on AdamEnfroy.com: When it comes to web hosting, a VPS hosting service provides you with more power and control than shared hosting, at a price that’s still lower than a dedicated server.
If you’re looking for the best VPS hosting providers, check out this ranked list of my top picks.
Furthermore, here is a direct comparison of Bluehost vs. HostGator, two of the most popular web hosting solutions.