When the internet was originally conceived, few would have imagined the volume of data and speed of delivery that would be required to meet the insatiable appetites of 21st Century media consumers.
To cope with these demands, early developers came up with an overlay network that could perform vital optimization tasks such as load balancing and intelligent routing to ensure pages loaded quickly. The first Content Delivery Network (CDN) was released in 1999 by Akamai – still an industry leader – but the technology has evolved markedly since then.
Today, latency-sensitive businesses, like social media networks and media streaming providers, tend to utilize a multi-CDN architecture with points-of-presence (POPs) in various geographical regions at the network’s edge.
If you are looking at deploying a CDN architecture for your business, you should speak with a vendor-neutral IT company that specializes in infrastructure and data center consulting services. They can look into every aspect of your network architecture and give you unbiased advice to help with your decision.
In the meantime, here are 7 benefits that a CDN could potentially bring to your business:
Faster, More Reliable Performance
People with experience of using CDNs will tell you that the end user experience is better because pages download quicker and there is no (or vastly reduced) buffering in video playback or jitter during real-time communication.
Why is this the case?
It’s all about the pathway between the content’s origin (i.e. one or more servers somewhere on the planet) and the end user’s device. Before CDNs, all traffic passed directly from origin to endpoint. As traffic levels increased, the pathways would become congested and data packets would slow down or become lost altogether. To the end consumer, this translated as hanging pages, frozen videos and laggy VoIP calls.
With a CDN architecture, content is either manually pushed or automatically pulled into geographically distributed POPs. The content is stored (cached) there until replaced by newer versions of the data. Some POPs can even run scripts and generate dynamic content.
When a user tries to access a webpage on a CDN, the DNS system will route them to the nearest geographical server and only uncacheable data will be requested from the origin server.
By decreasing the main server load in this way, the internet highway is kept clear and traffic moves freer throughout the entire network. As a result, the network’s data threshold is increased and more users can access the service simultaneously.
If that isn’t enough of a reason to deploy a CDN, third party vendors are finding ways to optimize CDN performance even further without you needing to re-architecture your network. Already this year, cloud services provider Fastly Inc. launched ‘Cloud Optimizer,’ a product which sits between a company’s origin servers and any CDN and enables smarter load balancing and routing.
Cloud Optimizer also includes powerful client-side analytics, which brings us nicely to the next benefit of CDNs: greater business insight.
Deeper Business Intel
With a simple end-to-end architecture, it is difficult to assess the performance of your network on a granular level. Yes, you can carry out customer surveys and monitor traffic flow but it is difficult, if not impossible, to connect the dots between customer behavior on one hand and network performance on the other.
For example, if you are enjoying high rates of engagement and low bounce rate on content in the United States but the opposite in Australia, how do you know if the issue is cultural in nature (i.e. Aussies just don’t get your content) or technical (e.g. your videos are laggy in Australia due to the extra distance the data has to travel). Even local traffic irregularities can vastly alter the customer experience between people situated in different areas or using different devices.
Modern CDNs are equipped with advanced usage analytics, enabling content owners to see, in real-time, where servers are becoming overloaded and where there is peak demand. Content strategists can then harness that information to actively control asset delivery to meet demand while also tackling load balancing issues to solve technical problems.
Ability to Segment Users
A CDN does more than just enable you to gauge where on the planet your content is most appreciated. The vast amounts of data generated by CDN logs can also be used to provide rich insight into user behavior and the technology they use (e.g. device, browser, etc.)
You can then set up rules to cater to each distinct set of users.
To make best use of the stats from your CDN, though, you will need to be proactive by spotting trends and reflecting them in your technical development and marketing plans. This will ensure that you’re always targeting the right people in the right way and delivering optimal performance, particularly to your most loyal customers.
Enhanced Data Storage Capability
As CDNs effectively store vast amounts of data, they can also be used as spacious and secure extra storage for your business. A CDN is especially useful for offloading content from your main server and distributing large static files such as software programs, apps, games and high resolution video files.
With tight integration between edge servers and storage clusters, heavy data processing can be carried out at the edge, close to where the service is needed, leaving the origin server free.
Data stored in one zone can often be replicated across other zones for enhanced redundancy. Access to sensitive data can also be rigorously controlled, which makes CDN storage ideal for Digital Rights Management.
When your content delivery speeds up, search engines and customers notice. The search engines respond by placing you higher up in their results pages which, in turn, makes your website visible to a larger audience. This positive reinforcement can dramatically increase your business performance.
Lower Data Transfer Costs
You may be wondering at this stage how much a CDN is likely to cost you and whether the benefits are worth the ‘extra’ costs. It’s easy to look at one side of the coin (e.g. the service costs), and ignore the other, namely the savings you’ll likely gain from reduced traffic both to and from your origin server.
CDNs usually charge on a per-unit basis with no monthly fee. The cost is based on whether data is passing out of the network (egress) or into it (ingress). Egress charges will also vary based on the destination region. There may also be additional charges based on the number of connection requests.
Regardless, the total cost of data transfer is almost always less than the cost of the equivalent traffic if it were passing to and from your main server. If you are renting server space, you will also be paying a monthly fee. By deploying a CDN, you may be able to downsize your server package in addition to paying less per GB transferred.
As with anything related to cloud computing, network architecture and data center economics, the devil is in the details so it’s important to get solid advice from a trusted and experienced source before jumping into a contract with both feet.
If there is one aspect of network design that is even more important than cost, it’s security. After all, the effects of a data breach or cyberattack can be devastating due to a combination of downtime, potential legal suits and loss of brand reputation.
A CDN can bolster your security by adding extra protection at edge servers and by deploying additional security measures around particularly sensitive data stores.
The big public cloud providers offer their own CDN services (Amazon Cloudfront, Azure CDN, Google Cloud CDN and IBM Content Delivery Network). The resources available to these tech behemoths enable them to deploy industry-leading security, making their CDN offerings a tempting choice. Security can be enhanced further by bypassing the internet altogether and directing your origin servers directly to your cloud provider’s network.
For example, by combining an AWS Direct Connect with Amazon CloudFront (AWS’ proprietary CDN), you can send new data quickly and securely from your servers straight to the cloud, keeping all data within Amazon’s secure backbone network. This will also add further cloud cost reduction to the savings you’re already achieving by using a CDN.
Content Delivery Networks are becoming increasingly vital in today’s media-obsessed society. Traditional end-to-end networks are becoming increasingly strained by consumer needs and expectations for reliable high resolution video, live streaming events, real-time social networking, multi-user communications and high performance gaming.
Investing in a CDN offers a host of benefits. With powerful caching and load balancing capabilities, server load is thus reduced, saving on data transfer costs and leading to significant speed and performance improvements. Google and the other search engines will surely take notice and proceed to push your content up the rankings.
CDNs provide detailed logs which can be processed via sophisticated analytics software, enabling businesses to both react to events and inform marketing and service development. CDNs can also be used as a secure storage reservoir for large static files, further reducing workload on the servers.
Finally, you can combine your CDN architecture with a cloud direct connect to further secure and optimize your content delivery. In other words, the possibilities that a CDN can provide for your business is virtually limitless.
Ben Ferguson: Vice President & Senior Network Architect at Shamrock Consulting Group
Ben Ferguson is the Vice President and Senior Network Architect for Shamrock Consulting Group, an industry leader in digital transformation solutions. Since his departure from Biochemical research in 2004, Ben has built core competencies around cloud direct connect and cloud cost reduction, SD WAN providers, enterprise wide area network architecture, high density data center deployments, cybersecurity and VOIP telephony.
Ben has designed hundreds of complex networks for some of the largest companies in the world and he’s helped Shamrock become a top partner of the 3 largest public cloud platforms for AWS, Azure and GCP consulting. Stay connected at LinkedIn.
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