Several months ago, my website’s page load times were, in a word, miserable. In the last couple of years, not only has the number of posts increased on LarryTalksTech.com, but the amount of graphics I use to add interest and help explain some part of a particular post has increased as well. Parsing out the increased amount of data from my server to my reader’s computer took longer. What to do? I found and eliminated a few “buggy” plugins, and this helped. In May of this year, I added the W3 Total Cache plugin to my WordPress website (you can read about it here), and this made a BIG difference. Search and page load times diminished significantly.
Still, I felt my site could be more responsive. Also, as LarryTalksTech.com reaches readers around the world, I wanted readers in Hong Kong, Canberra, Cairo, Moscow, London, Raipur, etc., to have similar load times from my site as readers in Seattle or Los Angeles. To carry this out, LarryTalksTech.com needed to be on a Content Delivery Network.
What Is A Content Delivery Network?
Content delivery networks use multiple servers in many geographic locations to improve deliveries of static and streaming content. Global content requests automatically get routed to the closest servers, speeding up page loads, maximizing bandwidth, and providing the same content regardless of internet- or site-traffic spikes. Depending on traffic and number of nodes, the network’s algorithms select the best routing options to deliver best performance and avoid bottlenecks(1).
Compare how users in Figure 1 receive information from a “single” server (left), and how user’s receive the same information from a content delivery network (right). For another example, let’s take a look at CloudFlare’s content delivery network (CDN). It operates out of 26 data centers around the world (Figure 2). Their CDN automatically caches static files from a client’s website at CloudFlare’s edge nodes. These files are stored closer to visitors while delivering the website’s dynamic content directly from it’s web server. CloudFlare then uses a technology called Anycast to route visitors to the nearest data center. The result is that the website, on average, loads twice as fast for visitors regardless of where they are located(2).
Why Use A Content Delivery Network?
- Significantly reduced page load time of your website – Search Engine rankings penalized by sites that load slowly
- Increased revenue by 1% for every 100 ms of improvement to your page load time retaining more customers (they are more satisfied)
- More manageable traffic
- Maximum availability of your product (also see, less of no downtimes – file mirroring)
- More secure network
- No geographical barriers
- Easy delivery of video, audio rich content, – minimizes packet loss
- Build more interactive website at no cost of losing visitors due to latencies reaching mobile customers with ease
- Branching out to new markets, regions
- Easy management of traffic peaks
- More scalability to your business, you can grow it as much as you want to
- Less or no downtimes – as content is replicated on many servers, should one server fail, data will flow from another server (file mirroring)
- New points of potential failures due to added complexity.
- As CDN’s have many clients, response times could vary due to the volume of website traffic of other CDN customers.
- Website owners need to research their clients and choose the CDNs that offer the most convenient server locations near where they get the most business.
- Updates and edits can take longer to appear on your website.
- CDNs are not created equal. Do your research.
In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks; however, if your readers/clients are mostly local, then a CDN will likely give you little benefit. On the other hand, if your website’s scope is broader, like “the USA”, or “the World”, then you should reap the benefits of a CDN. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
“Free” Content Delivery Networks
There are many free CDNs. The “free” ones are devoid of some features, and as no surprise, most “free” services offer paid upgrades. There are also many fee based CDNs as well. Take a look at what is available, decide the features you need, and make a choice.
I use the “free” version of CloudFlare. For a blog based website, it is hard to beat. Using it, I have had 54.4% fewer requests, and a bandwidth savings of nearly 40%. My W3 TC cache integrates with it. Support has been very good. In short, load times are faster, and no real issues. Setup took only a few minutes: filling out a form, some authentication, and changing my sites DNS settings. Nothing complex.
Here are some other free sites: Amazon CloudFront, BlueHat CDN, Free WordPress Plugin, CDN.net Free, EdgeCast, Highwinds, and Photon CDN.
1. “What Is a Content Delivery Network”
2. “CloudFlare is the next generation CDN”
3. G. Candrlic, “Advantages of Content Delivery Network”, (July, 2013)
4. http://whatismyipaddress.com/cdn, op. cit.