What is a CDN and How Does it Work? (Plus 7 Little-Known Benefits of CDNs)

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Did you know that a one-second delay in website loading time can cause a seven percent reduction in conversions? Not only that, but also an 11% drop in page views, and up to a 16% reduction in overall customer satisfaction. These statistics make it clear that information delivery and website load time significantly impact your ability to reach and close customers.

But, it doesn’t stop there. Many other factors also have the ability to impact the time it takes for site visitors to see the information on your website. One component of this is the CDN (content delivery network). If you aren’t sure what a CDN is or why it matters, don’t fret. You aren’t alone.

Keep reading to learn what is a CDN and why it matters.

CDN Defined

The content delivery network or CDN refers to a geographically distributed group of servers that work together to provide the fast delivery of online content. With the CDN, assets are quickly transferred including videos, images, style sheets, JavaScript files, and HTML pages.

The popularity of content delivery services is still growing, and today, most web traffic is served through various providers. Including traffic from some of the world’s largest sites such as Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook.

When a CDN is configured properly, it can provide protection for websites against various malicious attacks, including DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks.

the first content delivery network (cdn)

The Evolution of the CDN

Commercial CDNs have been around since the 1990s. Similar to any other decades-old tech, it has gone through several evolutionary stages before turning into the robust application delivery platform that is available today.

The development path was shaped by the market forces, including the newest trends in vast connectivity advancements and content consumption. Much of this has been enabled by using fiber optics and other types of new communications tech.

Put simply, CDN evolution is able to be divided into three generations. All of which played a large role in bringing new technologies, concepts, and capabilities to the network architecture. Working in parallel, every new generation saw the pricing of the CDN services go down. Now it is a mass-market, readily available technology.

the difference between a CDN and a web host

CDN vs. Web Host

A CDN doesn’t host content. It also can’t replace the need for appropriate web hosting. It does help to cache content on the network edge, which will improve overall website performance.

Some websites struggle to have performance needs met by the traditional hosting services, which is the reason they choose CDNs. When you begin using caching for reducing hosting bandwidth, you can help prevent interruptions I service and improve security.

A CDN is a popular option to help relieve some of the biggest pain points that go along with traditional web hosting.

how a CDN is structured

The Architecture of a CDN

At the highest level, CDN architecture is created using two main components:

  • Points of presence
  • Edge servers

Beyond these two components, there’s a lot of work needed to ensure traffic is routed properly, for attacks to be mitigated, and for ongoing uptime to be maintained.

Points of Presence

Often referred to as just POP, a point of presence is a specific geographical location where you find a group of CDN edge servers. There are also points of presence (POPs) that are multiple geographical locations that when combined to create an entire network.

All the POPs that create the CDN along with each location have a significant effect on global coverage.

Edge Servers

This is a server that is found between two networks and located at every POP. Edge servers are proxy caches that work like the typical web browser cache.

They aren’t designed to generate content for a website, but instead, they maintain a copy of the content in the cache. The total number of edge servers found at every POP varies from one provider to another.

The dispersion of the POPs also varies from one CDN to another. Some providers prefer to cover more ground by using smaller capacity servers and others want to maintain fewer higher-capacity POPs. Something to consider when evaluating the CDNs architecture is to discover where the POPs are located.

Depending on where most of a website’s visitors come from, this may be the most important deciding factor.

How Does a CDN Work?

CDNs are large networks created from various servers located in several geographic regions. The POPs are found in areas that are densely populated, and in countries across the globe. For larger countries, it’s likely there are many POPs.

The goal is to direct a user to the closest POP. When you request content for a website using a content delivery network, the request is sent to the closest POP. At this point, a web server sends the data requested.

There are a few ways that a request can be sent to a specific POP with one of the methods being IP Anycast.

What Happens if There is No CDN?

If a website doesn’t use a CDN, the content is delivered using a single origin server, regardless of the location of the person requesting it. What this means is if the origin server is located in Australia users from both Switzerland and Canada are going to get the content from the same location.

The physical distance between where the information is requested and the responding origin server can affect the site’s loading time.

What Happens When There is a CDN?

If a content delivery network is being used, all the content is delivered by the POP that is located closest to the location of the requester. This means that even if the origin server is in Australia, users from Switzerland and Canada are going to receive the information from two different locations.

When the physical distance is shortened between the requester and CDN edge server that responds, it will help to reduce overall loading time significantly.

Types of Content to Use CDNs For

When analyzing the world population internet usage and the types of content being consumed, those with the most bandwidth include audio, video, and image files. However, there are several other content types that CDNs can deliver.

While the supported formats and content types will vary from one network provider to another, some of the most commonly supported formats include:

  • Audio: PCM, AAC, AIFF, WAV, and MP3
  • Video: WMV, MOV, MP4, HSL, and FLV
  • Image: TIF, GIF, SVG, JPG, and PNG
  • Other: WOFF, OTF, TTF, ZIP, PDF, HTML, JSON, JS, and CSS

Additional formats may also be supported based on the CDN used.

Who Currently Uses a CDN?

The answer to this is simple – virtually everyone. Big companies (like the ones mentioned above) have already begun to use CDNs and the number of sites adopting this method of content delivery continues to grow.

If you have any part of your business online, there are very few reasons to not use a CDN, especially when there are so many that offer services for free.

However, even free, a CDN is not right for everyone. It is especially true if you are running a website that is local-online. With most of the people visiting your site from the local area, there isn’t really any benefit offered by having a CDN.

With this scenario, you may actually worsen website performance if you use a CDN. That’s because you create another connection point between people trying to visit your site and a server that’s nearby.

If you have a website that operates on a larger scale, CDN usage is smart. Currently, it is used in an array of sectors, including:

  • Government
  • E-commerce
  • Higher education
  • Online gaming
  • Healthcare
  • Entertainment and media
  • Mobile
  • Advertising

Having a content delivery network is a vital way to enhance the availability of users having fast to access a website for any industry.

7 Awesome Benefits of a CDN

Get to know the benefits offered by using a content delivery network here. This can help you see why it may be a smart investment for your business.

1. CDNs Improves Performance

Improved performance is one of the most important benefits offered by implementing a content delivery network. The content is cached in the POPs across the globe, which brings the content much closer to the end-user.

A shorter distance is going to reduce latency and minimize packet loss. If there are users from around the world accessing a certain resource, using a CDN is important.

2. CDNs Boost Overall Website Reliability

When a content delivery network is being used, the requests are always routed to the location closest. If one of the edge servers isn’t available, the requests are sent to the next available edge server automatically.

This helps to create automatic redundancy, ensuring your content is always available. If this redundancy isn’t in place, visitors may see an error page. This can impact the likelihood that they are never going to return.

3. CDNs Provide The Ability to Effortlessly Scale

When you offload traffic to your website by using a content delivery network, it will make it easier to manage spikes in traffic and the ability to scale down or up in a short period of time. This is going to result in a lower load on the origin server while minimizing downtime.

Because most websites are made up of mostly static content, a large number of web assets are going to be delivered more efficiently and faster from a CDN.

4. CDNs Provide Another Layer of Security

When you use a CDN, most traffic isn’t being served by an origin server. Instead, a CDN edge server is used, which allows DDoS to be mitigated automatically.

The TLS certificates, which are often called SSL certificates, can be used on most of the popular platforms such as Cloudflare. With security certificates, you can rest assured that your site traffic is encrypted. Additionally, CDNs have other security features, including protection from third-party access, secure tokens, and hotlink protection.

5. CDNs Reduce Server Costs

When you opt to integrate a CDN for web traffic, you don’t have any infrastructure to manage. That’s because it is handled by the CDN provider. By doing this, you can eliminate upfront investments, along with maintenance costs, which allows your time to be spent elsewhere.

Also, the bandwidth of origin servers is reduced since the content is sent with the CDN edge servers instead. This means there is a reduced need to upgrade to a stronger hosting plan because it is going to be serving less traffic. That’s thanks to the cached content found on the edge servers of the content delivery network.

6. CDNs Help Increase Conversions

There are several proven scenarios that have shown increasing the overall speed of a website, digital content or game can increase conversions. This mainly occurs because the experience of the user is improved.

7. CDNs Help Reduce Abandonment Rates

There are several factors that will contribute to a higher bounce rate. Some of these factors include usability, appearance, and navigation.

However, the most important factor is how long it takes for your content to load. When you use a CDN, you can increase your overall user engagement and reduce abandonment rates.

This can help to improve your rank in the search engines, increase your conversions or sales, and improve user experience (UX).

What is a CDN? Your Website’s New Best Friend

If you’ve been wondering, “what is a CDN?” hopefully you’ve learned enough to start with. Understanding the technology, the benefits, and other key aspects will help your business grow.

If you want to learn more about content delivery networks, what they offer, and how to get started using them, contact us. Our team can help you get the solutions you need.

We offer solutions for WordPress sites and can help ensure your users have a superior experience, regardless of where they are when accessing the information.

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Chris Kirksey

What is a CDN and How Does it Work? (Plus 7 Little-Known Benefits of CDNs)

Did you know that a one-second delay in website loading time can cause a seven percent reduction in conversions? Not only that, but also an 11% drop in page views, and up to a 16% reduction in overall customer satisfaction. These statistics make it clear that information delivery and website load time significantly impact your ability to reach and close customers. But, it doesn’t stop there. Many other factors also have the

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