There was once a time when it was enough to put a website on a server to provide relatively stable access to it for people from all over the world. There may have been slight delays, but as websites often didn’t change for long periods of time and were comprised of small files, lags either weren’t enough to disrupt their work or the people were easier to please.
However, these times are long gone. Today an average website updates many times every day and the sheer amount of content viewed, transferred and downloaded via the Internet is so great that the demands of users far exceed the capabilities of traditional web hosting. Were we still using it and only it, loading times would be excruciatingly slow, and service would be unstable at the very best. That is why CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) are getting more and more prominent with every passing year.
In this article, we will discuss why it is so and why any website owner should consider using CDN-based hosting provider even if it currently looks as if traditional hosting is more than enough.
What Are CDNs?
Understanding what a CDN is cannot be achieved without understanding why content delivery networks exist. The most crucial problem CDNs aim to deal with is so-called latency – in layman terms, it is the delay between your clicking a link to a web page and the moment its contents appear on your screen. How long it depends on many factors: how much traffic-heavy content the page contains, how well optimized it is, how fast your Internet connection is. Many of these factors refer to the page itself, the quality of your connection or device you use. However, there is one factor that is universal – namely, the physical distance between your location and the server hosting the website. The farther apart you are, the longer it will take the page to load.
CDNs aim to shorten this distance by distributing a network of proxy servers and their data centers across multiple locations (Points of Presence, PoPs). If, for example, somebody accesses a US-hosted website from Europe, normally both his request and the server’s response would have to travel all the way through the Atlantic and back for every loaded page. If the website in question uses a CDN-based hosting, it will use a PoP closest to the user’s location, dramatically increasing website’s performance.
Why You Should Be Using a CDN
Short response times are crucial for any website, but especially so for commercial resources. According to Kissmetrics, a 1-second loading delay means a 7 percent drop in conversions. 40 percent of people claim to habitually leave a website altogether if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. As you may see, every second count.
Less Evident Advantages of Using a CDN
Although the performance boost due to shorter distances is CDN’s primary benefit, there is a number of other, less obvious ones.
CDNs are deployed on the edge of your network, and if it is done properly, they can effectively block the majority of external threats before they enter the perimeter. They are especially efficient in dealing with DDoS attacks. If your business relies on your website being available non-stop, a DDoS attack can severely disrupt your company’s activities and lead to massive losses. CDNs can mitigate the severity of such an attack by absorbing it across multiple points of presence. While hackers can relatively easy overwhelm a single server, they will need to apply much greater resources to deal with multiple servers of a CDN, as each of them has to deal with a smaller portion of traffic.
In traditional hosting, all the content of a website is kept on a single server and is transferred to the end user in its entirety. If this server is down for any reason, the website becomes inaccessible until the problem is fixed, which is unpleasant for standard websites and unacceptable for businesses.
Using a CDN means having automatic redundancy and 100 percent availability. Even in times of massive power outages, network problems and serious hardware issue the network will sense which servers are currently available and redirect traffic accordingly. Your website will remain online when your competitors are unavailable.
Using a single CDN means not having to invest in multiple hosting providers across the globe, paying for expensive foreign hosting. As a result, you pay less and don’t have to maintain relations with many providers separately.
Businesses are looking to expand into new regions often don’t have resources and services located in these areas to implement their strategies fully. It is especially important for countries that have local firewall restrictions like China. Expanding into such markets without having a pre-existing presence means unnecessary expenses and wasted time, as well as the need to create duplicate local versions of your website. Meanwhile, global CDNs have an established presence in firewalled countries, allowing you to host your websites from within, without having to achieve individual agreements for such locations.
CDN-based hosting allows for automatic scaling up during traffic spikes, unlike traditional servers that may experience lags or be unavailable when the number of users trying to access them simultaneously becomes excessive.
In addition to improving performance and reliability of your network, CDNs can provide a host of valuable information that, on analysis, will help you discover important trends you can use to enhance your advertising strategies and deal with weaker aspects of your business.
According to BuiltWith, 48.3 percent of top 10 000 websites are using content delivery networks. But when you take a look at the top 1m websites, only 14.7 percent are using CDNs. Now, it probably isn’t the only reason why the top resources occupy their current position, but one cannot argue that there is an important correlation. For you, it means that by switching to a CDN-based hosting right now you obtain a priceless advantage over your competition – and the sooner you do this, the better.