The Need for Website Speed: A Primer on what CDNs do and Who Needs Them

The internet is an amazing thing. With a couple clicks of a mouse or a swipe or two of a finger, anyone anywhere in the world can purchase almost anything, research any topic, or make instant contact with someone halfway around the globe.

As a society, however, do we take the time to fully appreciate this modern marvel of technology? Or do nearly half of online shoppers abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load? Survey says it’s the latter. Amazing as the internet may be, if your site doesn’t have speed, it would seem it doesn’t have much. Luckily there’s a solution for that.

ABC, easy as 123, simple as CDN

A content delivery network, otherwise known as a CDN, is a network of data centers distributed around the globe designed to improve website performance, very much including page load time. A content delivery network, as the name implies, does so by delivering a website’s content to its users faster and more efficiently using caching.

Each data center in a CDN has a proxy cache server that stores all a website’s cacheable content, which consists of all static content including CSS files, JavaScript, template images, music, and videos as well as – in the case of advanced CDNs – dynamic content for the period in which it remains unchanged. Cache servers speed up a website in two ways: firstly, storing cached content eliminates lengthy trips to the origin server that would otherwise be required to fetch the requested content. Secondly, when a user visits the website, he or she is redirected to the data center closest to them in order to cut down on the physical distance the requested content has to travel in order for pages to load.

Content delivery networks also improve website performance by optimizing content. This includes compressing content like HTML, CSS, JavaScript and image files to speed up loading, removing unnecessary characters from source code, and managing multimedia resources effectively. CDNs also optimize network connections and reuse open sessions to maximize network efficiency.

Additional benefits

In addition to improving website performance and page load time, a content delivery network also improves a website’s reliability through the multi-server environment of the network. Having multiple servers provides built-in load balancing, which keeps any one server from being overwhelmed by traffic. Built-in load balancing on its own provides inherent protection against DDoS attacks, and advanced CDNs offer additional DDoS mitigation that can be tailored to an organization’s needs – always-on or on-demand, managed by DDoS mitigation specialists either way. Other integrated security may include a web application firewall, two-factor authentication, and customizable security rules.

Additionally, advanced CDNs include support for the latest internet protocols, allowing for automatic enabling of IPv6 and HTTP/2 without requiring any upgrade of the origin infrastructure. Thanks to its optimization tools, a CDN also cuts down on the bandwidth required by a website, which can significantly cut down on bandwidth bills.

Who needs a CDN?

When you consider that 47% of online consumers expect a page to load in less than two seconds, 79% who are dissatisfied with a website’s performance are less likely to make a purchase from that site again, and 44% will tell friends about a negative online experience, it’s tempting to say every website needs a CDN. Especially when you factor in that site speed is a significant aspect when it comes to search engine rankings.

However, some websites will benefit more than others from the speed and performance improvements that come along with a content delivery network. In order to keep shoppers happy and keep sales flowing, e-commerce sites will greatly benefit from a CDN. So too will any site using SSL, as a CDN will help make up for that extra time required to establish a secure connection with every user’s browser. The same goes for websites with plenty of international traffic, as all users will always have a data center at least somewhat close by. And of course, websites that experience high bursts of traffic will also be major beneficiaries of a CDN’s advantages, especially the built-in load balancing. Load balancing, as well as a CDN’s integrated DDoS protection, is important as well for websites in competitive industries like online gaming, software as a service and banking and finance that may be at increased risk of DDoS attack.

Obviously, no website owner has to invest in a CDN and reap its many benefits. Instead, site owners could wait for society to have a collective epiphany and become more grateful for all the amazing technology we’re able to access on a daily basis.