The Internet has made the world smaller and interconnected. People no longer have to wait for weeks to hear from their friends from another country. News travels very fast, reaching people from the other side of the world within seconds. And CDNs play a crucial role in this process.

What Is a CDN?

A CDN is a group of servers and data centers that are strategically distributed in key locations. CDNs enable Internet content to load quickly, allowing end users to access web content in a timely manner. Overall, CDNs help improve website performance.

In addition, a CDN also plays an important role in load balancing, as it helps avoid network congestion. As a result, service interruption due to heavy network traffic is less likely to occur.

How Does a CDN Work?

Without a CDN, website speed suffers and users experience slow loading times, depending on the distance between the user and the physical location of the website’s server. For example, a person from South America who wants to access content from a server in Europe would need to wait for his request as it travels across the Atlantic. It would then take about the same amount of time for the server’s response to travel back to the end user. The distance is signified by the red line in the image below.

A CDN that is physically near the end user, however, would make the website speed better. Both the request and response travel a shorter distance, thereby improving the loading time. CDNs cache content, so when a user requests for content that is already cached, it immediately sends back the data.

The image above is a simplified representation of the process, though in reality, several data centers and servers make up a CDN.

4 Things to Consider When Choosing a CDN

Some of the biggest websites employ a CDN to provide their visitors the best web experience. Others, on the other hand, use a multi-CDN solution, which combines the power of various CDN providers. Such strategy helps companies increase their global reach and further improves website performance, as its static content is spread across multiple CDNs. A multi-CDN strategy also ensures constant uptime and security for your website, which cannot be guaranteed using a single CDN solution.

When choosing a CDN or multi-CDN solution, several factors need to be considered, including the following:

CDN Performance

There are several CDN providers, and they are not created equal. They vary in performance and availability, among other factors. When shopping for a CDN solution, you need to do a background check first and gather data regarding the performance of different providers. You may do this manually by researching on each provider’s website or implementing each solution and testing their performance. You can also use tools that measure CDN performance and availability without having to implement them. This saves you a significant amount of time and effort as you don’t have to implement every CDN solution you’re interested in. 

Content Type

One of the first considerations is the type of content you deliver. Does it require more bandwidth, meaning you use media, such as videos and photos? If so, you need to pick a CDN provider that would have a guaranteed number of servers available for you. Note that a CDN with a wide network of servers is useless unless a number of them are guaranteed for your content.

Make sure that the CDN can cache videos locally. For business-to-business (B2B) websites, it would be best to go for a CDN that caters to enterprises.

User Location

Every website owner’s goal is to provide visitors with a high-quality experience, regardless of their location. As such, you need to know where your usual visitors are from so you can select a CDN with servers near them.

If most of your users are in India, it would be a good idea to choose a CDN with servers in the said country. However, if your target audience’s locations are diverse and spread out, you may choose a provider with servers in all continents. Another option would be to go for a multi-CDN solution to take advantage of multiple CDN providers.

Content Personalization

Many businesses have seen the benefits of content personalization and are implementing this strategy left and right. The quality of a video, for example, would need to be adjusted automatically based on a user’s device, subscriber profile, and Internet speed. All types of content also need to be optimized for mobile use.

All these personalizations and customizations can take a toll on website performance and speed, especially if a CDN provider does not have the network to accommodate such functionality. When selecting a CDN, you should, therefore, ensure that it supports content personalization.

CDNs have changed content delivery in a good way. User experience has improved, as website speed and performance also improved. And while selecting a CDN provider might be tricky, a few guidelines can help. Multi-CDN solutions are also available, allowing you to choose more than one provider.