Content Delivery Networks (CDN) are an essential part of any online business strategy. To mention just a few reasons, they have proved to increase the user-friendliness and SEO of websites.
As we have finalized many CDN implementation processes here at Naturaily, we will try to explain how this happens and how to approach this subject if you wish to do so in your business.
You can find answers to the following questions:
- What are Content Delivery Networks and why should you use them?
- What challenges and problems do they address?
- What are the most popular CDN vendors?
- Free CDNs – do they exist and are they worth it?
- How to select a CDN provider?
- What should you keep in mind when implementing a CDN?
- Are Content Delivery Networks used in Jamstack and why?
What are Content Delivery Networks?
Let’s start with the basics. To put it simply, a CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a globally distributed network of web servers, which purpose is to maintain faster delivery and high availability of content. This means that your website content can be transferred from any place in the world – making it convenient for your end-user.
A visitor has access to a copy of the data in their local area. This contrasts with a traditional solution where all visitors use the same central server, which often leads to traffic bottlenecks near that server.
To give you an example, in a traditional model, people from Asia would have to load content from centers in the USA. This resulted in slower data transfer and consequently, worse website performance.
Content Delivery Networks – How Do They Work?
Content suppliers such as media companies and e-commerce providers pay CDN operators to deliver their content to the audience. In turn, a CDN pays Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and network operators to host servers in their data centers.
So, there are two main mechanisms that explain how a CDN works:
- It distributes important content to multiple data centers around the world so that it is closer to end-users and therefore faster to download.
- It uses server optimizations based on the type of content to get that content to the user as efficiently as possible.
In addition to improving performance, Content Delivery Network servers also relieve traffic coming directly from the origin provider’s infrastructure. This results in possible cost savings for the content provider.
Why Use Content Delivery Networks?
While relieving web traffic seems like a solid enough argument, obviously it’s not the only reason why you should consider using a CDN.
The mobile and app-based Internet is increasingly forcing content providers and content creators to simplify navigation and improve the user experience, especially the load time of their websites. According to the Akamai study, a two-second delay in web page load time increase bounce rates by 103%. What’s more, one-tenth of a second of delay can result in a 7% loss in customer conversions. Just one-tenth of a second! That’s why a Content Delivery Network is essential for anyone interested in global Internet connection.
The implementation of a CDN affects that loading time, which has numerous advantages for your SEO, conversions and general user satisfaction.
Now let’s see the main benefits of CDN to date.
More than 59% of the world’s population is online, and global internet traffic has grown exponentially over the past decade. Businesses will have the opportunity to profit from the benefits of CDN to enhance global content delivery. CDNs provide solutions for latency issues through the use of cloud computing with local points of presence (POPs) around the world. This enables long-distance online transactions without interruption.
Placing CDN servers in popular locations around the world and doubling the content storage significantly reduces latency. Users are almost always close to one of these servers.
Dedicated Data Centers
If your main web server is located in Amsterdam, visitors from America or Asia will have to make transcontinental electronic hops to access your files. Many CDNs offer localized data centers that are closer to the user and therefore allow for faster downloads.
With data distributed throughout the CDN network, it becomes easy to restore a location in the event of a failure. Users may not even notice that a location has failed. By adding a new or restored location to the network, it automatically loads with the current website content.
Reduced Network Load
The lower the network load, the higher the performance. Network loads are typically higher during peak periods due to the number of visitors on one server using resources and thus reducing performance for all others. Redirecting visitors to the other servers means balancing the network load. Less network disruption means a better user experience and more conversions.
Content viewed via a CDN is likely to be more reliable when it comes to delivering HD quality online video while maintaining a high quality of service. The goal of a CDN is to make everything faster by using acceleration technology that further improves the performance and reliability of all content in that system, resulting in better customer satisfaction.
Provided Data Analysis
Many commercial CDNs provide usage reports. These reports can supplement your own website analytics and, in some cases, provide a better understanding of video views and downloads. In other words, you know where every penny of your money is going, and you can use the analytics to improve your statistics. With analytical information, you can discover trends that can lead to sales.
A global CDN will reduce costs because you don’t have to pay for expensive foreign hosting. This is perfect for small web businesses on a tight budget. Also, as we mentioned, Internet traffic is not placed on a single backbone but is distributed to servers to spread the load evenly. As a result, you can reduce the “delivery costs” of content.
A Content Delivery Network provides protection against DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service: an attempt to stop a site’s performance by overloading it with traffic). The impact of DDoS attacks is far greater than it seems. Not only can these attacks cause huge economic losses, but they can also have a major impact on the reputation and image of the website. During a DDoS attack, a Content Delivery Network takes over the traffic and ensures that your website remains active. Cloud solutions are designed to stop an attack before it reaches your data center.
The Most Popular CDN Providers
Now when you already know what a Content Delivery Network is and what benefits are, it’s time to choose the most suitable solution. Let’s take a look at the tools available on the market and whether they match your expectations and needs. Our focus will be on their pros and cons to make your choice easier.
Akamai is one of the oldest and most popular CDN providers on our list. The company offers an exceptional CDN service that works at high speeds. According to their page, Akamai has been around for more than two decades and today has about 275,000 servers in more than 135 countries.
The CDN service is aimed at advanced users. As a result, it might cause problems during configuration for beginners. This is where the company’s 24/7 customer support can come to the rescue.
At the time of writing, CDNPerf ranks Akamai as the sixth fastest service in the industry (Tech Radar, 2022), with a query speed of 30.00 ms. Akamai also makes use of several features for website security, better user experience and performance.
In fact, even the biggest names such as LinkedIn, Yahoo, Twitter and SalesForce rely on Akamai’s CDN services.
From our perspective, the Akamai benefits are the following:
- Enterprise-level features
- Stellar reputation
- Incredible performance
- Not suitable for beginners
Pricing: There is no concrete pricing plan on the Akamai website. You can contact customer support via email, phone or live chat to inquire about the price that fits your needs.
Amazon CloudFront is a powerful option for tech-savvy users who want a decent CDN for their business. It integrates with Amazon Web Services and provides users with an easy way to distribute content with low latency and high speeds.
CloudFront offers a full set of advanced features that allow you to customize everything and automate GZip compressions. All these features represent better speed. Another strength of CloudFront is its in-depth analysis that is just a click away. It displays all the details about your visitors’ activities, including their device type, the operating system they use, etc.
You can also set up alerts for data transfer limits. This way, you can make adjustments as needed.
The company has 180 points of presence in 30 countries. You can even connect to other Amazon services such as Amazon S3, Amazon EC2, Elastic Load Balancing and others.
CloudFront is one of the few CDN providers to be ISO:9001 and ISO:27001, PCI-DSS, SOC (1,2 and 3) and HIPAA certified. So if your site handles sensitive data, CloudFront could be your best bet.
“Always-on connections” and “demand reduction” are additional features that support faster data transmission.
Amazon CloudFront Benefits:
- Excellent performance and high data transfer rates
- Highly configurable
- Protection against Layer 3 and 4 DDoS attacks
- Certified security compliance
- Efficient traffic routing
- Ideal for streaming video and other larger media files
- It can be complicated for a beginner to configure the settings
- Complicated pricing structure
- A feature-rich user interface can be overwhelming
- Technical support costs extra
Pricing: The free level provides 50 GB of data transfer for one year. From our experience at Naturaily, we could recommend this free plan to any low-budget business that wants to give this solution a try.
Google Cloud CDN
Google Cloud CDN is a performance-based service that supports the reliable delivery of web content on a global scale. It has over 90 points of presence around the world. You can get the best speed no matter where you are.
However, the company is only compatible with sites hosted in Google Compute Engine or Google Cloud Storage. From our perspective, if you pick another hosting provider, you can use other CDNs from our list.
Using Google Cloud CDN has major advantages, such as a pay-per-use pricing model and easy integration with Google cloud products such as Cloud Logging and Cloud Monitoring.
The architecture gives your site a single global IP address, providing consistent performance worldwide. Cloud CDN also supports QUIC and HTTP/2 to provide a better user experience for mobile users.
Google Cloud CDN allows your cache to hold up to 5 TB of files, making it the best option for video streaming. Its Stackdriver Logging feature provides real-time information for tracking and diagnosing errors that prevent the page from loading normally.
Likewise, its free SSL ensures better data protection at no extra cost.
Google Cloud CDN Benefits:
- Global reach using IP anycast
- Supports QUIC and HTTP/2
- Easy integration with Google Cloud
- Cached files up to 5 TB
- Real-time information to track errors
- Free SSL protection
- Low price
- The service is only available on sites hosted in Google Compute Engine or Google Cloud Storage
Pricing: Based on the region and different factors, which can be found on the supplier’s page.
Cloudflare is one of the most popular CDN providers among bloggers, small businesses and professionals. It comes with a free plan with no bandwidth limitations.
They have more than 180 data centers around the world. This can be helpful in improving the performance, speed and security of your website.
One drawback of Cloudflare is that you’ll need to upgrade to a premium plan to use all their security services.
- Easy to set up
- Easily monitor performance from the control panel
- Over 180 data centers worldwide, including North America, South America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Australia/New Zealand.
- REST API allows developers to take full control of what the service does
- The free plan comes with limited functionality
- You will need to upgrade to their paid plans to use their chat or phone support
Pricing: Free. If you need additional features, you will need to upgrade to a premium plan, starting at $20 per month.
Microsoft is one of the largest technology providers in the world. In addition to that, they offer global CDN services for large websites and businesses. Microsoft Azure Content Delivery Network is a pretty fast CDN service that allows sites to load extremely fast with rewritable rules and many other advanced settings and configurations.
Microsoft Azure CDN Benefits:
- Customizable, especially for those who need further Microsoft integration
- Dynamic site acceleration
- CDN caching rules
- Diagnostic logs
- File compression
- HTTP / 2 support
- DDoS protection
- You need to have some experience with CDN platforms: Azure is different from local servers and requires expertise to ensure that all the moving parts work as efficiently as possible. Even a common mistake made by a company’s IT administrator can create problems.
- This service does not use Microsoft’s own servers, but rather 3 plans that use other CDNs: Standard Akamai, Standard Verizon and Premium Verizon.
Pricing: Custom for each client
Free CDNs – Do They Exist and Are They Worth It?
Almost all the mentioned CDNs have a free plan that you can benefit from.
Needless to say, you have to keep in mind that they are not very generous and can lack some of the features that you need to implement a Content Delivery Network successfully.
These are all the inconveniences that you should expect:
All the free plans come with a limited data transfer. This can prove to be very troublesome, especially if you strategize on fast development and growth.
Not surprisingly, you can’t rely on good security protection on free plans. You are at much higher risk when it comes to DDoS attacks and, generally, your data is more likely to get compromised.
Free plans usually include just the most basic data transfer. They are rarely customizable, which can cause some web optimization issues. Your team may have problems using the best potential of a CDN, leading to less satisfactory results.
Lower Priority Customer Support
CDN providers prioritize the queries brought by their premium clients, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you experience any problems with your tool, you have to either brace yourself to wait for the resolution or try to get it on your own. Which, of course, may be difficult unless you have vast experience considering CDNs.
Now, here at Naturaily we don’t think a free CDN is always a bad option. It might be very beneficial to get on the free plan to get a hold of a tool or compare a few of them with each other. It’s always about your specific project, product or platform.
What to Look for When Selecting a CDN Provider
Now that we know what CDN is and why it’s beneficial to use it, we come to the even more crucial part.
What should we consider when choosing our CDN provider? How can we make sure that the services are most suitable for our needs and will make our website’s performance better than ever before?
While this answer may differ a bit depending on your expectations and your business specifics, there are several aspects that should always be considered.
Let’s take a look at them!
Content Delivery Management
The CDN provider you choose should allow you to efficiently manage your active content and purge old content. You should also be able to optimize media for different content and files, such as images and video streaming.
Websites that deal with finances and original content are the most vulnerable to risks and cyber threats. Thus, the CDN provider must have the latest security protocols. Most CDN providers have sufficient measures to deal with scammers, bots and other persistent threats.
It is also beneficial if your CDN provider supports digital rights management (DRM) licensing using Microsoft PlayReady, Apple FairPlay or other content protection systems.
Wide Area Network
A Content Delivery Network only makes sense if it has a large network of servers to deliver content over a wider geographic area. So, make sure at least one of the CDN service providers you consider has a large network.
It is common to encounter technical problems. It is best if the CDN provider has a competent support team to help you resolve any technical issues, such as connectivity errors, availability, security or other problems.
How to Implement a Content Delivery Network?
In a perfect world, all you would have to do is subscribe to a CDN offer and see your site accelerate in no time.
But as we all know, the world is not always that simple. Luckily for you, we have experience with CDN services and we know what to avoid.
So let’s explore how to organize your CDN setup, in the most efficient and rational way.
Build an Ironclad Cache Policy
Caching and, in particular, the retention rate of your server are crucial to ensure that a CDN will increase the performance of your website.
If your website prohibits caching, you’ll see a very little performance gain. So the first thing to ask your developers is whether your content is optimally cacheable. You can guide them by asking them to check the following elements:
The header is the place on your site where you can tell third-party services (such as a CDN) how long they are allowed to “cache” content.
Personalized content per user
For example, when a user is logged into your site’s custom interface, certain elements of your web pages will not be cached.
You need to be able to make as many cookies as possible “cacheable”. Note however that some cookies will not be cacheable, such as those that allow you to do A/B testing on your pages.
Start by “Hiding” JS, CSS and Images
Before you start implementing a Content Delivery Network, it’s a good idea to determine what should be cached and what should not. It’s best to talk about your needs and ask developers what they recommend.
Remember to ask your developers to put your images, CSS and JS on a particular subdomain for a simple and risk-free implementation.
However, keep in mind that this purging process is not available or easy to implement in all CDN solutions at your disposal.
To Go Further: Cache the HTML
Your JS, CSS and images are now cacheable? Congratulations!
If you want an optimal performance gain via your CDN, you can, in a second step, manage the cache level of the HTML part of your website. If your website is already built, this step will be a project in itself, as it will touch the heart of your website’s code. Your developers will have to ensure that the HTML does not contain any elements that block the cache (customization, no-cache pragma, etc.).
The result: a great user experience, thanks to an extremely fast site, both for users and for the Google Bots that come to crawl your site. In short, this is the Holy Grail of CDN implementation.
By taking the project of setting up a CDN step by step, you ensure to increase the speed of your site little by little… and learn along the way how the CDN works.
Content Delivery Networks in Jamstack
Headless technology is a broad topic and, to be honest, also our favorite. We have several years of experience in Jamstack technology, so it’s not a coincidence we want to get this part covered. To get a clear view of this, we recommend you our expertise on Jamstack development.
If you feel confident on that topic, let’s go further.
Jamstack in Brief Words
In order to understand Jamstack, let’s talk a little about headless CMS.
To give you some background, a traditional CMS tries and succeeds in many ways to meet the needs of the developer, the content writer and the marketer. For example, if the CMS is built on the Microsoft .NET Framework, the front-end website would also be built on the same technology.
Headless CMSes have removed this dependency to some extent. This has been achieved by separating the front-end website from the CMS back-end and content repository. We highly encourage you to dig deeper and check this article about Headless CMS.
Moving to a headless CMS is not an easy decision, and the selection process should not be taken lightly. A chosen headless CMS should provide the right features to meet your organization’s unique requirements.
CDN in Jamstack
Jamstack/Headless sites do not rely on a single server-side code, the request refers to geographically dispersed servers that work together to ensure rapid delivery of pre-rendered content. And that’s where CDNs come to play again.
They work perfectly with Headless CMS as they allow fast data transfers around the world and further make the web page optimization to be more SEO-friendly.
To sum it up, CDN in Jamstack is a natural way of multiplying their impact. If you wish to know a little more on the topic of Headless CMS, be sure to have a read about the best Headless CMS you may not have heard of!
That’s probably what you’re asking yourself: which CDN to choose?
Luckily, you are at the right place! Let’s try to give you a relatively objective answer, and above all, one that is adapted to your needs and your real capacities.
- You don’t have international web traffic? Don’t bother setting up a CDN: you’ll end up with a slower site, and frustrated developers. Not recommendable by itself.
- Do you have a minimum budget, but a maximum desire to speed up your site? Opt for an intermediate CDN, which your hosting provider must have in its portfolio (such as Cloudflare), and a caching of your JS, CSS and images, which will respect both your portfolio and your teams.
- Can you afford to set up a premium CDN? Great! This means that you can actually benefit most from the CDN’s magic.
And you came to the right place when it comes to that. Here at Naturaily, we have vast experience with implementing CDN. Our number one priority is to make the whole process easier and clearer to our clients, so you shouldn’t worry about CDN being a mystery anymore.
Feel free to contact us, and we’ll be happy to hear about your business-specific needs. We’ll give you thorough feedback and pricing, with a precise implementation plan and best-suited tools.