Content Distribution Networks: How CDNs Improve Site Performance

Content Distribution Networks: How CDNs Improve Site Performance

Do you know about the journey that website content takes to get to your computer?

First, you type in a website address. That’s considered a “request” for content.

Then, the request is sent to a server that stores the website content. That computer “serves” the content to you, fulfilling your request.

It’s interesting how the internet works!

In this article, we’ll discuss something called a CDN. That stands for Content Distribution Network.

As the name indicates, a CDN is a network of servers created for the strategic and efficient distribution of content.

CDNs are part of the internet’s plumbing that you usually don’t have to think about. However, they can have a big impact on how well your site performs, so there are a few CDN-related topics that bear discussion.

We’ll go over what a CDN is in more detail, and then answer the following questions:

  • Why are CDNs needed?
  • How do they work?
  • How can you use a CDN?
  • Are CDNs secure?

Let’s get into it!

What is Content Delivery Network

What Is a CDN?

A Content Distribution Network (CDN) is a network of servers in different locations around the globe that helps send content to users who are located close to those servers.

To explain it simply, a server in London would serve content to users in London, while a server in New York would serve content to users in New York, with both servers connected to the main server located somewhere else.

While a CDN includes many servers, there’s always a primary host server that stores the main content. The other servers store a cached copy of the content. The goal is to serve content as fast as possible to the users who request it, minimizing delays, and enabling a smooth flow of content around the world.

Why are CDNs Needed?

Anything that makes data move faster on the internet is of value! CDNs have been gaining popularity due to their ability to provide a smoother, faster, and more user-centered experience to people globally.

As attention spans get shorter and shorter, the need for a fast website grows in importance. Studies have shown that even a one-second delay causes a 7% drop in conversions, an 11% drop in page views, and a 16% drop in customer satisfaction.

If one server gets millions of requests from around the world, all for the same website, that would put a lot of pressure on that server!

It’s better if those requests are distributed among many servers spread out in different locations. That prevents websites from crashing or loading too slowly, and it’s why CDNs are so amazing!

CDN have a big impacto on how well your site performs.

CDNs shorten the physical distance between the user and the content they want to access, resulting in faster load time and improved site performance.

CDNs can also have a big impact on user experience. They make it possible for users to see a website in a way that’s customized based on where they’re accessing it from.

For instance, if a user accesses a website from Germany, and the site is on a CDN, the CDN can help serve the content in German, providing a cached version that’s unique to users in Germany. This means that all of the content on the website would be Germany-specific with the goal being to provide a completely German website experience.

How Does a CDN Work?

As you now know, CDNs are massive networks of servers located all around the world. There’s the main host server that holds the original content, plus all the other distributed servers that hold a cached version of the website.

For example, the content of the Apple website would be stored on a host server located in the US, while a cached version of it would be located on all the distributed servers around the world. The content of each cached version would be tailored to the language of its server’s location.

How a CDN Works
Image Credit: Imperva

The image above shows a simplified CDN. The origin server, also referred to as the “POP,” or Point of Presence, is where the original content is stored. POPs interact with caching servers to send and receive content requests to end users.

That’s all there is to it. As you can see, a CDN isn’t really that complicated.

Why Should You Consider Using a CDN?

CDNs assist with FEO, or Front End Optimization, which focuses on reducing file sizes and minimizing the requests needed to load a webpage. This is all geared towards removing what users see as slowness in content delivery.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of CDNs is that they create a foundation for internet traffic to scale. They make it easier for you to reach a massive audience and deliver a great experience on your site for every user.

Other benefits of using a CDN include:

  • faster page loading speeds,
  • less internet bandwidth consumption, and
  • balancing internet loads across multiple servers.

Those are all pretty good reasons to start using a CDN!

However, there’s at least one scenario in which you would not need to use a CDN—if you’re planning to serve content exclusively to users in a specific location. For example, if your target user group is in New York City and nowhere else, all the location-specific, cached versions of your content would be of no value.

Here are some types of businesses that typically need to use a CDN:

  • eCommerce stores that sell products to different locations globally;
  • Government websites that provide information to international travelers;
  • Marketplaces like eBay or Amazon that connect international buyers and sellers;
  • Content platforms, like Youtube, that distribute content globally.
Learn how can you use a CDN?
Image Credit: The Engineering Projects

How Can You Use a CDN?

Most hosting providers include a CDN as an add-on feature, making it an option for any customer who is setting up a website. The cost for hosting providers to offer their customers use of a CDN has dropped dramatically in recent years.

If your hosting plan gives you access to a CDN, in order to use it, you’ll make a few configuration changes in your website’s control panel. By modifying the root domain DNS configurations, you can direct the traffic that goes from an origin server to a CDN, improving how your content reaches faraway users.

Learn if CDN is secure

Is CDN Secure?

Not only are CDNs secure, they actually help prevent cyber attacks on the origin server. There’s a good chance that any would-be hackers will access cached content from local servers near them, so, the original content remains protected. This makes a CDN very safe to use, safeguarding your vital content stored online.

Another important security feature of a CDN is that the data and content being transferred through it is usually encrypted using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connection. That means it’s safe from external access or manipulation.

Furthermore, because sending content to international users via local servers takes less time than serving content from the origin server would, a CDN enhances data security by limiting how long the content remains vulnerable.

We highly recommend using a CDN. They provide fast content delivery and, thanks to their ability to serve location-specific versions of your content, they can help give users all over the world a better experience on your website.

Do you use CDN for your website?

María is an enthusiast of cinema, literature and digital communication. As Content Coordinator at HostPapa, she focuses on the publication of content for the blog and social networks, organizing the translations, as well as writing and editing articles for the KB.

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