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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.
How Does a CDN Work?
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."
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.
Benefits of Using a CDN
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:
- Using the optimal server to deliver your Web content improves site performance and usability for users who are doing things like streaming video.
- 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.
- It reduces or eliminates the effects of traffic spikes on the user experience of your site.
- CDN hosts can keep your sites online by delivering cached pages in the event of downtime.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Your website depends on displaying a lot images
- You offer video or audio streaming
- You run an income-generating website where revenue is affected by speed and uptime, such as an e-commerce site
- You need faster loading times for your website for any reason
Finding a CDN Hosting Plan
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.
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.
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.