The goal for a Webmaster when it comes to hosting is to maximize speed and reliability while minimizing costs. This first involves finding the kind of right host for your site and then picking a good company to host with, but it then involves optimizing the site to get the most out of the resources it has.
On that front, one of the most overlooked and underused tools is a Content Delivery Network (CDN). CDNs can greatly increase the speed and reliability of the site while helping to keep costs low. A good Content Delivery Network can make your site load faster, perform better in the search engines and even save you money.
One of the reasons CDNs are so underused is because they are confusing to many Webmasters. So we’re going to explore what a CDN is and why you should consider using one, no matter the size of your site.
How a CDN Works
Let’s say you have a server in San Francisco. If you get a visitor from Los Angeles, this works out wonderfully. Their data only travels a few hundred miles and should only take a small fraction of a second.
However, if the visitor is from New York, the time it takes them to reach your site and download the data will be noticeably longer. This gets worse if your visitor is from Paris, Moscow, Beijing or Sydney. In short, the further a visitor is from your server, the slower their connection to it will seem and the more time they will spend downloading your content.
Content Delivery Networks solve this problem by taking your data, whatever it may be, and moving it to a group of different datacenters all over the world and then automatically choosing which one serves the content by where the visitor is located. Now, a visitor in Beijing would load your data from Hong Kong, a Paris visitor might get your content from London and so forth.
The results are very noticeable, as this screenshot from a speed test conducted on my site showed when half of my images were hosted on a CDN and half were not:
Furthermore, since most CDNs use large cloud networks, downtime is kept to an absolute minimum and, if there is a problem at one datacenter, the traffic can be routed to another and only a handful of visitors will see any slowdown.
The end result is that users download data more quickly, search engines, seeing that the site loads more quickly, favor sites that use CDNs and the reliability of the portions on the CDN is drastically improved.
Best of all though, setting up a CDN for your blog or site is not only inexpensive, but a project you can do in a few hours and have up in running in a day.
Using a CDN
While this means you will still need a regular hosting account, since static content makes up the bulk of your site’s bandwidth used, you can offload most of your sites traffic with minimal changes and take much of the load off of your server. This also means you may be able to survive with a less expensive Web host as most of the downloading will be done from the CDN.
When considering a CDN, there are two major providers that are consumer-facing, Amazon S3 with CloudFront and Rackspace Mosso. Both provide essentially the same service with comparable pricing, though Amazon has more tools written for its service. There are also smaller competitors such as GoGrid and SimpleCDN that may offer lower prices and additional features, but are generally less established.
However, all of these services work fundamentally in the same way. Users upload their files to the service, either through their Web interface or any number of applications written for it, and, after making sure that the files are viewable to the general public, link to those files rather than to ones on their own server. From the perspective of a Webmaster, it works virtually the same as uploading your images via FTP.
Also, by editing your DNS settings, you can use your own subdomain name to point to the hosted files (EX: files.yourname.com) and thus make it invisible to visitors as well.
In short, integrating a CDN into your site or blog is very trivial to do, especially if you are a WordPress user and, given the cost of using a CDN service, there is almost no reason not to.
Though a CDN is very sophisticated technology, it costs nearly nothing to use. Pricing schemes vary wildly from service to service, most CDNs start at about 17-25 cents per GB of transfer plus a small amount per X number of requests (in some cases).
CDNs, typically, do not charge a monthly fee or have minimum amounts, making the price directly related to one’s use of the service.
As such, smaller to mid-size sites that just host images and other small static files will typically only pay pennies per day. Larger sites will pay more, but likely will still pay less than if they used their own hosting account.
CDNs are a tremendous cost saver and that’s why many sites, such as Twitter, Drop.io and Scribd all use a CDN, Amazon in those cases, to keep costs low and scale neatly as they grow.
Since you only pay for what you use, CDNs are a good deal for small Webmasters and larger ones alike and since they scale with your use automatically, it can grow with your site without changing services.
If you are serious about your site and are not using a CDN for at least some of your static content, you are likely missing out on a great opportunity to save money, speed up your site and improve your search engine ranking.
Though CDNs may seem intimidating, they are very easy to use, especially for WordPress users, and can greatly improve your site’s performance and reliability, especially for international visitors.
Setting up your site to use a CDN is one of the easiest and most powerful things you can do to improve your site. Since accounts cost nothing to create, there is no harm in trying them out to see if they might work for you.
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- Amazon CloudFront – CDN on a budget (blogs.vinuthomas.com)
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