CONTENT DELIVERY NETWORK: DEFINITION, USAGE AND ADVANTAGES
What is a content delivery network and what advantages does it offer? We have the answers to frequently asked questions and compare the best providers.
In this article:
- What is a content delivery network?
- The history of content delivery networks
- How does a CDN work?
- Operational areas
- Which of the following is an advantage of a content delivery network?
- Which of the following is a disadvantage of a content delivery network?
- Which providers are available?
- Finding the right CDN provider
- How much does a CDN cost?
The most important facts in a nutshell
- Main purpose of a content delivery network is to provide and play content in very short time
- A main server distributes content to replication servers
- Some advantages of CDN are savings in costs, shorter loading times and failure safety
Content delivery network: The smart solution for providing data
Server overloading, long loading times and high costs – providing content comes with many challenges. To provide content easier and to relieve companies financially, there is a good solution: Content delivery network. But what is a CDN and what are the advantages? In this article we will answer all questions about how CDN works, advantages and which providers are available for businesses.
A content delivery network, short CDN, is a network of computers that are linked together worldwide. Through the connection with a provider, a link to all CDN servers is created. The distribution of retrieved data is carried out by a central computer which transfers the saved data to a replication server. When users retrieve specific data, a request-routing-system ensures that the data is transferred through the most appropriate replication server. The only thing that matters here is proximity to the user – data is always provided by the replication-server which is the closest to the user to ensure a fast transfer of data. Namely, the goal of CDN is to reduce loading times and to save costs.
The history of the content delivery network leads back to the year 1998. After the internet became publicly accessible, the company Akamai Technologies introduced the first content delivery network. Transfer of data required much more time back then and technology wasn’t as developed as in 2022. The company knew that solutions to shorten this process were necessary. Already back in this time CDN followed the goal to provide content faster and to use bandwidth more efficiently.
Although goals of usage were similar, CDN was primarily used for e-commerce, streaming and software downloads. Only with the growing relevance of mobile computing and cloud computing the usage of CDN expanded. They enabled the delivery of complex web content. That ultimately was conditioned that there were more CDN providers and the progress in this area got bigger as well. Nowadays, CDN is used in different areas, no matter if it’s streaming, e-commerce or providing content.
The progress is most evident in the dynamic content. In principle, it is rather difficult to save dynamic content on a server because it’s individual. A good example is the cart of online shops which differs between the buyers. That makes it difficult to provide cloud saved content. Through routing paths there is still the opportunity to provide content of such processes via a CDN. In the future, there will be even more advantages in the field of dynamic content because businesses know how important individuality and usability are.
For functionality of CDN there are two important factors to make it work, one of them being the distribution system and the other one being the replication-server. The distribution system ensures that data is always up to date and that it will be transferred to replication servers. During this process the request-routing-system comes into play to make sure that user inquiries land on the right servers and provide content as fast as possible.
The transmission process takes place via two possibilities. On the one hand, a content delivery network can distribute data directly to replication servers. Alternatively, the main server sends a message to servers so that content is retrievable everytime. The second opportunity guarantees a more efficient use of bandwidth because the main server has to process less data.
Many people associate using a CDN with improving performance of a website but this isn’t the only operation area for which a content delivery network can be used. Depending on the provider, there are different functions available, no matter if it’s getting access to content or expanding safety infrastructures.
Businesses use CDN for providing content, streaming, e-commerce and improving performance of mobile websites. But there is one common goal all CDN providers aim for: Fulfilling requirements of a business. CDN indeed is a competitive factor because businesses that work most efficiently, will also reach the best and measurable results and successively improve their performance.
- Reduced loading times
- Less costs
- Better usage
- Reduced amounts of data
- Failure safety
- Improved referencing
- More safety
Reduced loading times
The example of pictures for websites is evident for the strengths of CDN. Loading time is a relevant ranking factor for Google and even pictures have an impact on that. The right format, proper coding and the usage of CDN improve the loading times of websites because content is provided much faster.
All of that works as follows: Websites pull pictures (or other content) from an origin server which is mostly located far away and therefore lengthens the loading times. CDN offers a good alternative because pictures are provided by the nearest server. Users claim this data from the server which provides pictures the fastest.
With the usage of CDN, the origin server has to process less data through which expensive traffic is prevented and the amount of used bandwidth is reduced.
When data is requested, the content delivery network transfers a copy from the cache server which is the nearest to the user.
Caching and the user friendly provision of retrieved data allows fast access through which the usage is improved. A CDN recognizes which data set is the most relevant for website visitors and loads this content already before the first interaction. That promises better user interaction during the interaction with a website.
Reduced amounts of data
CDN delivers data in compressed form. Because of that, data is delivered much faster and loading times are shortened.
The usage of CDN reduces the load of the main server. This distribution of loads across several sub-servers reduces the risk of downtime and any kinds of failures. This saves maintenance work, for which further costs are incurred.
Providing content through a CDN happens faster, because they combine requested data to packages.
An often overlooked advantage is the aspect of safety. A CDN helps to protect the main server from virus attacks and other cyber threads.
Using a content delivery network comes with many advantages but there are also disadvantages as well as challenges which a CDN (partly) can’t handle.
Managing data on your own server comes with the advantage of having control over it. Through usage of a CDN, this advantage gets lost because data of a main server is distributed to a replication-server and customers have no impact on the processes. Providers of CDN might be reliable but when the rare case of disruptions and failures occur, customers can’t do anything about it.
Dynamic content limit
Individual customized content barely can’t be provided by a content delivery network. One example is the carts of online shops. Each customer places an individual order, therefore it’s not possible for a CDN to save data in a cache server.
But even here there are solutions available, so called workarounds. CDN accelerates the data transfer and provides routing paths through which dynamic content can be delivered.
Competition in CDN is growing and there are many different providers on the market, each with their own advantages. To give you better insights, we have compared the following five providers:
- Fastly CDN
- Microsoft Azure CDN
- StackPath CDN
- Amazon CloudFont
Cloudflare is probably the most known CDN provider. Even when you’re not too familiar with the topic, you might have heard of this company, which partly has to do with its stock performance in 2021. The company is from the USA and is focused on improving performance of websites. as well as expanding security. This CDN is, for example, safe from DDoS attacks. Cloudflare also promises shorter loading times.
Price-wise there are three different alternatives when using Cloudflare, a free plan as well as the pro and business variant. The pro variant costs 20 euros each month, the business version is 200 euros. In case you only want regular functions, the free plan will be enough. Other than that, you can choose from many additional functions as well as you can choose the individual customized enterprise content delivery network.
Fastly CDN promises what the name insists. The provider uses edge cloud computing to analyze and process data even faster. In addition to that, fastly offers the opportunity to compress pictures. In terms of safety, Fastly CDN is a very good choice – the provider is safe from DDos attacks and offers a web application firewall.
Fastly offers a free test phase. After that you can choose from three different packages, namely enterprise, essential and professional. Information about prices is accessible after you have registered on the website of Fastly CDN. But very important: Fastly offers individual memberships for which the prices are determined by the used bandwidth and the amount of used file requests.
Microsoft Azure CDN
Microsoft is namely the first giant of this list and that promises high performance. Microsoft Azure is safe from cyber attacks and the capacity of distribution data is almost unlimited. Because of that, the provider is especially recommended for bigger businesses. This becomes clear when you take a closer look at the price: At first, registered businesses receive a 200 US dollar gift card for using the CDN, after that the prices are determined by individual needs.
The focus of StackPath CDN is speed, safety and control. According to disclosures of the provider, StackPath reduces latency up to 60 per cent and also improves the performance of websites, apps, games and streams. The prices are a shoutout to all competitors: Only 15 euros each month. However, pricing mostly depends on your individual needs.
Amazon is an empire and has been involved into many projects outside of e-commerce, including building their own content delivery network. The biggest strength of Amazon CloudFront is the individuality and the opportunities in programming for developers. During the first year Amazon CloudFront is free but only for data transfers up to 50 MB and 2 million requests within a month. After the free test phase ends, pricing depends on individual needs and wishes.
There are many other providers for CDN, one of them being Google. Competition in this field is growing but all providers consider to offer safe as well as high quality solutions which make customers happy. Whatever CDN you will choose, all of them offer their own individual strengths.
Choosing the right CDN provider depends on many different factors. Usage and advantages are primarily important because the different providers are all specialized and offer holistic solutions for specific fields. When comparing providers with similar range of services, price and quality of service matter the most. The providers from our comparison all offer fair conditions but differ in the amount of transferred data and focuses. Best you can do is to compare different providers and make your decision based on individual wishes.
In Europe, the topic of data security is important which is why businesses should always have an eye on how to execute it. The providers from our list all consider data security based on European standards but taking a second look at more unknown providers is highly recommended to be safe and avoid expensive warning letters.
Prices of a content delivery network vary and depend on the provider. Standard tarifs begin at about 15 up to 20 euros each month, business tarifs cost up to 200 euros each month. In addition, many providers base their pricing on the locations – in other words, the monthly rate is based on the region from which you run your business. But the amount of data transferred and individual needs are also taken into account in pricing.
The demand for using content delivery networks has soared in recent years, especially with the growing prominence of providers such as Cloudflare. Users have many advantages with CDN, one of them being the uncomplicated access to content through which loading times are limited and working processes become more efficient.
But you shouldn’t underestimate the effort that comes with using a content delivery network at first. Also, businesses have less control over processes which are completed by a CDN. Therefore it is recommended to take a closer look at all the available providers and to check how they treat the topic of data security.
Lastly, we will answer the most frequently asked questions about content delivery networks.
The cache is a buffer memory that provides access to a background medium. It makes sure that the renewed access to data is faster and thus the loading times are reduced.
The process of replication describes the saving of the same data on many different servers. A replication server serves as a kind of distributor of data, which is transferred via a main server and forwarded to computers. Replication gives users the ability to access data quickly.
Pictures: © Canva.com