The Best CDN Hosting: Who's The Best For Your Site? [Updated: 2018]

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CDN Hosting

Gary McGath
Gary McGath

Gary McGath is a former software developer turned freelance writer. In addition to writing many articles on technology, he's the author of two crowdfunded e-books. His tech passions include data security and digital preservation.

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What is CDN Hosting?

What is CDN Hosting

Your media-rich website can benefit from a content delivery network (CDN), which copies your content and optimizes delivery for the best speed, usability, and performance possible.

A CDN is a network of servers all over the world which are set up to cache a copy of your website and then deliver this copy to your website visitors for faster loading.

The Problem: Slow Loading Websites

Websites with a lot of changing content and heavy media on them can take a long time to load. This is an issue because you don’t want to lose valuable site visitors to a slow-loading web page.

Solution: CDNs Can Boost Page Load Times

So, what’s the solution for this? Other than ramping up the performance of your web hosting by switching to a higher hosting tier, you can use a content delivery network (CDN) to boost page load speeds on your site.

Types of Content Cached on a CDN

CDNs typically cache static content. Static content is anything that is fixed on your website like headers, main content, videos, and images. Dynamic content, or content that is ever-changing, can load much faster as a result. Some CDN systems will also cache the dynamic content of your website.

Here's What Your CDN Hosting Needs To Offer

A content delivery network (CDN) is a way of hosting from many servers at different geographical locations. This allows the best server to deliver content based upon the location of the user. A CDN is not necessary for most websites. But for those using large amounts of bandwidth, CDNs can be critical to providing your customers with adequate service. We recommend SiteGround for CDN hosting.

SiteGround recommended

How Does a CDN Work?

How Does a CDN Work

In a nutshell, a content delivery network (CDN) copies all your website content -- text, images, video files, etc. -- and delivers it to your website visitors on your behalf in a more efficient way.

What Are Edge Servers?

A CDN duplicates your Web content and stores it across many servers at points of presence (POPs) along an Internet network. These servers are called "edge servers."

How Do They Work?

When someone visits your website, your CDN will then send your content to them from the edge server that will provide optimal delivery. Often the optimal server is the one that’s located closest geographically to the user, since the closer the server is, the faster the data will reach them. But this isn’t always the case; if the closest server is already at capacity, the CDN will choose another server that has the highest availability.

CDN Hosting

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Understanding CDN Functions

Understanding CDN Hosting

To understand exactly what happens with a CDN, you need a general understanding of how web pages are delivered when you click a link or enter a URL online.

DNS Requests

When someone clicks a link to open a web page, their web browser makes a request to the server. This is called a DNS request. The browser provides the domain name to the DNS server. The DNS server will then look up the domain name in its records to find the matching IP address, much like looking up a number in a phone book.

Then, the browser will receive the IP address of the server where the website is being stored. The browser connects the user’s computer with the server so it can get access to the website they requested.

DNS Requests on a CDN

When a DNS request is made for a domain name on a CDN, the DNS server looks for the closest geographical server to the user's IP address and then provides the IP address of the closest edge server. So, the browser will receive website content from the edge server instead of the origin server where the website is actually hosted.

Benefits of Using a CDN

CDN Hosting Benefits

When a CDN is in place, each visitor to your website receives the content from the optimal server in a network, instead of from a single server which might be located far away or overloaded.

This system provides a number of benefits for any website, but especially for media-rich sites:

  • Improved site performance: Using the optimal server to deliver your Web content improves site performance and usability for users who are doing things like streaming video.
  • Reduced buffering and latency: Using a CDN keeps your site users from waiting around for content, such as images and videos, to load. Buffering and latency, especially with video and e-commerce, is minimized or eliminated.
  • Reduced traffic spikes: It reduces or eliminates the effects of traffic spikes on the user experience of your site.
  • Reduced downtime: CDN hosts can keep your sites online by delivering cached pages in the event of downtime.
  • Added security: The duplication and distribution of data provides you an extra level of security: If a natural disaster takes out a group of servers in one area, your data will still be available from the servers in other areas.
  • Improved analytics: Tracking how edge servers are used in a CDN can also provide valuable analytics on visitor activity that can lead to a better user experience.

Additional Benefits of Using a CDN

Even without all the above benefits, using a CDN can be worth it just for the speed boost alone. Reducing loading times on your website, even by just a few seconds, can lower your bounce rate, improve your search engine rankings, and increase conversions.

These benefits are also especially important to e-commerce websites. If your customer has to wait too long, they may navigate away without completing a purchase.

Do You Need a CDN?

Individual bloggers and small bricks-and-mortar businesses without e-commerce may not see any benefit from a CDN.

Sites that deliver rich media content and those with e-commerce could decrease loading times and increase conversion rates by employing a CDN. You should consider using a CDN if:

  1. Your website depends on displaying a lot of images.
  2. You offer video or audio streaming.
  3. You run an income-generating website where revenue is affected by speed and uptime, such as an e-commerce site.
  4. You run an e-commerce site that experiences peak traffic periods, such as Black Friday.
  5. You need faster loading times for your website for any reason.

CDN Hosting Plans

CDN Hosting Plans

With the popularity of CDNs increasing, many hosts offer CDNs included with their hosting plans in order to stay competitive. Many CDN hosting plans are cloud-based, using virtual servers, which is well-suited to sites that have traffic spikes and lots of media because typically, cloud hosting resources are instantly scalable.

Purchasing a Standalone CDN

You may also purchase a CDN service separately if it doesn’t come with your chosen hosting plan. Many brands of CDNs are available, some open source, others commercially licensed.

They also vary in features. For example, some CDNs only allow for static content while others include dynamic content, as well. As such, the cost varies widely.

Public CDN Services

A public CDN is completely free and is commonly used by web developers hosting open source projects. Some public CDN providers include jsDelivr, cdnjs, and Microsoft Ajax CDN.

Dedicated CDN Services

Dedicated CDN Hosting

You’ll likely get access to a CDN through your web host provider. But if you don’t, you can get use a dedicated CDN provider for this service instead. There are many options out there. We’ve compared three popular choices:

  Amazon CloudFront CloudFlare CDN Akamai
Best For Used by developers. Used by individuals and small to medium-sized businesses. This is most commonly included in hosting plans. Used by the biggest websites. Most popular CDN provider.
Coverage

Has the smallest coverage out of these three providers. They operate 69 server locations around the world.

CloudFlare has 118 data centers all over the world.  Akamai has the biggest distribution of CDN servers in the world, with servers in over 120 countries.
Plans

Amazon CloudFront has cheaper pricing options for individuals. Amazon uses a pay-as-you-go system which lets you only pay for what you use. Amazon also has a free usage tier that you can use for one year.

The company has monthly plans on flat pricing for their customers with options for individuals, small businesses, and enterprises. Personal websites can use their free tier to get a CDN at no cost.   

The price of a CDN with Akamai is not displayed on their website. Instead, customers must get in contact with them to develop a contract for their specific company's needs. Their services are designed for much larger companies, not individuals or small businesses.

Supported content 

Their CDN supports caching of dynamic content, not just static content. And, you’ll have access to caching statistics reports.

Cloudflare includes DDoS protection, site analytics, and they give you 24/7 support on their most expensive paid plan. Enabling the Cloudflare CDN is easy.

Caches dynamic content as well as static content. Includes advanced security, 24/7 support, as well as features for software and digital download delivery.

Built-In CDN Services

Web hosting plans will usually include the Cloudflare CDN. But some will use SiteLock’s TrueSpeed CDN instead. TrueSpeed also has a large global presence and can even cache dynamic content as well as static content.

One of the best things about TrueSpeed is that you can manually purge the cache from your website. This is really useful if you're updating your website and you want your site content to be updated instantly all over the world.

How to Enable a CDN from Your Web Hosting Provider

If a CDN is included with your web hosting plan, you’ll usually have to enable it yourself. You can do this pretty easily from the control panel in your hosting account. Though the layout of the control panel will differ from company to company, the process should be similar:

  1. Log into your web hosting account on your hosting provider’s website.
  2. Navigate to a tab or section in your control panel where you CDN application might be. You might find this under Site Improvement Tools, Services, Features, Optimize Website or Hosting.
  3. Select the CDN provider that comes with your hosting, which is most likely Cloudflare.
  4. Click Enable to activate your CDN.
  5. Your website content will now be cached on a network of global servers.

Points to remember

There are a number of points to remember when purchasing CDN Hosting:

  • CDN’s solve the problem of latency: the amount of time it takes for a web page to load.
  • A CDN will reduce your bandwidth usage.
  • A CDN will not always help with page load time issues. For example, if your website users are mostly local and you’re hosting your website on a local server.
  • The performance of a CDN will vary greatly. Performance fluctuates with the amount of traffic on the CDN, server outages, and the reach of the CDN’s coverage.
  • A CDN alone is not the most effective way to increase the load time of your website. You should also engage in front-end optimization to help your websites load more efficiently.
  • Your hosting service also plays a large role in how fast your website content will load.
  • CDNs also help the performance of page loading on mobile websites, but not by as much as they do for desktop websites.

CDN Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does CDN stand for?

    CDN is an acronym that stands for Content Delivery Network.

  • What is a CDN?

    A CDN is a distributed network of servers acting together, although residing in different data centers around the Internet.

  • What purpose do CDNs serve?

    CDNs excel at serving content to Internet users around the world, while at the same time freeing up resources from the companies and organizations whose data is being served.

  • How does a CDN work?

    Because the servers that comprise a CDN are located throughout the Internet, they offer a number of advantages over a traditional server setup.

    The biggest advantage is optimized content delivery.

    When a user visits a website, or tries to download content, the CDN determines the user’s location and serves the content from a server that is geographically close to the user.

    Quicker travel time cuts down on latency and potential lag, as the content can be served via a more direct route. The more popular a website and the more global an audience, the greater the performance gains a CDN offers.

    Another advantage to a CDN is the protection it offers from denial-of-service (DoS) or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

    A DDoS attack is carried out by multiple computers while a DoS attack is carried out by a single one. In either case, however, the goal is to overwhelm the target with communication and connection requests so that it is unable to respond.

    Because a CDN distributes traffic across an entire network, it is a much harder target to overwhelm than a single server or server cluster.

  • Does the end-user know they are being served by a CDN?

    The entire process should be relatively transparent to the user.

    The only way one would know they are being routed through a CDN is if the CDN is configured to use a different URL than the one that was requested or clicked on.

    Aside from that, the only telltale sign will be the improved speed of accessing files, especially media.

  • What types of CDN services are available?

    There are a number different CDN models in use, including dedicated server CDNs, peer-to-peer (P2P) or hybrid systems and private CDNs.

    As its name implies, a dedicated server CDN is one where the sole purpose of the servers is to act as a CDN.

    This setup is the traditional server/client model, wherein the content is stored on the dedicated servers and served up to requesting clients. It's the standard type of configuration most commonly employed by companies offering CDN services.

    In contrast, a P2P or hybrid approach blends the traditional server-based CDN with elements of a P2P network.

    First popularized by Napster, P2P is a decentralized method for storing and accessing files. In the P2P model, there is no centralized storage and clients, or peers, are able to directly access files from other peers.

    A P2P CDN has the distinct advantage of becoming more powerful as the number of users increase, as opposed to the traditional model where more users result in greater demand and require an ever-growing cluster of servers to keep up.

    With a P2P CDN, each new user is not only a client, but also another server that can help distribute the load of data requests, as well as improve geographic coverage of the entire network.

    Because of this advantage, many companies are beginning to blend P2P elements with their traditional CDN, creating a hybrid approach that offers the best of both worlds. Private CDNs are a viable option for businesses who are not happy with commercial options.

    Thanks to the relatively low cost of hosting equipment and services, it is possible to set up servers in remote locations that can be used as a private CDN to help distribute the organization’s content.

  • What companies and types of companies offer CDN services?

    The number and kind of companies offering CDN services are almost as varied as the companies who use such services.

    There are a number of companies that offer at least some CDN services for free, such as CloudFlair and BootstrapCDN.

    Still other companies sell CDN services commercially, either specializing in CDN services or bundling them as part of a larger group of services being offered. Microsoft is an example of this category, offering CDN services to users of its Azure cloud platform.

    Amazon also offers CDN services as part of their web services. Akamai Technologies, MaxCDN, MetaCDN, and CDNetworks are examples of companies that specialize in the field.

  • Do you need CDN services?

    If your company or organization conducts online business around the world, has a high-traffic website or serves bandwidth-intensive media, then a CDN service may be a good option.

  • Why kind of CDN should you go with?

    For the vast majority of organizations, one of the free or commercial options will be a good choice, especially when considering the performance and security issues involved in properly establishing a CDN.

    Given the number and variety of services on the market, there is sure to be one that fits virtually every budget.

    Many hosting companies bundle CDN services with their hosting plans, often for just a few dollars a month. In some cases, for companies who have the resources and expertise to properly set up and administer one, a private CDN may be the best choice.

    Especially for organizations who need to scale, the ability to control and administer their own CDN may result in substantial savings over a commercial option.

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