Content Delivery Networks
In the age of internet supremacy, speed will make or break a site – and even the associated business. If your company is trying to connect to the world on pages that load slowly, you risk customers simply losing patience and wandering elsewhere with a quick click of the mouse.
With such ease of virtual access to just about any service imaginable, a pleasant browsing experience is one of the only things separating you from your digital competitors. To get the edge, you have a very real “need for speed.” In the interest of accommodating that need, a slew of content delivery networks – otherwise known as CDNs – have sprung up like flowers in recent years. So what are content delivery networks? How do they function, and what do they accomplish?
Normally, a web user enters an address in their search bar, and the server for the site processes that request. Depending on the power and size of the site, content might be returned rapidly… at a medium rate… or, in the worst case scenario, very, very slowly. (Imagine the times a page has refused to load, or loaded at a snail’s pace, even when other sites seemed to be functioning perfectly.) A content delivery network circumvents this problem.
A content delivery network is essentially an intermediary between a user, and a given website. It’s a system (or “network”) of multiple computer data centers, all of which are interconnected, that provides (or “delivers”) content based on the user’s geographic location in the interest of fast load-times. You have probably accessed material through a CDN without even realizing it: internet service providers often use CDNs to provide smooth and rapid video streaming, for example. CDNs are not limited to video, however – CDNs can be utilized to deliver applications, downloads, or any kind of content, whether it’s static, dynamic, or mobile.
CDNs also have benefits to offer besides increasing site speed. In addition to slashing load-times, content delivery networks are also used to:
- save bandwidth
- reduce hosting costs
- keep scripts up-to-date
- provide traffic reports and analysis
- protect sites from unmanageable surges in traffic
A Google search for “content delivery network” already returns 129,000,000 results, and as society (and business) becomes more and more tech-oriented, CDNs are likely to experience burgeoning growth in the future. While personal preference and business needs are going to be different from one case to the next, here are three CDNs widely held to be among the best of the bunch.
CloudFlare was founded in San Francisco in 2009 by Michelle Zatlyn, Matthew Prince, and Lee Holloway. On Google, CloudFlare returns an impressive 3,140,000 results.
On its overview page, CloudFlare summarizes its capabilities and benefits:
“CloudFlare protects and accelerates any website online. Once your website is a part of the CloudFlare community, its web traffic is routed through our intelligent global network. We automatically optimize the delivery of your web pages so your visitors get the fastest page load times and best performance. We also block threats and limit abusive bots and crawlers from wasting your bandwidth and server resources. The result: CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks.”
CloudFlare has users around the world, with a map on their website spanning from Los Angeles to Stockholm to Tokyo. Heavyweight CloudFlare clients include the likes of Metallica and the government of Turkey – so when it comes to versatility, you can rest assured.
Like competitor CloudFlare, MaxCDN was also founded in 2009. Big-name clients include Nissan, Kodak, The Washington Times, and StumbleUpon.
A bullet-point “highlight reel” on MaxCDN’s homepage promises the following perks for users:
- instant purge
- instant provisioning
- powerful RESTfulAPI
- custom SSL
- top-tier performance
- SSD network
MaxCDN touts flexibility: not only is it compatible with popular content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, SocialEngine, and Joomla, it is also suitable for advertisers like BuySellAds, and gaming and entertainment providers like Kixeye and Pet City. MaxCDN promises “
How popular is it? Google returns 1,910,000 results.
Last but not least, EdgeCast (EdgeCast Networks in full) is also a heavy-hitter among CDNs. With 1,490,000 results returned by Google – not far behind MaxCDN – EdgeCast boasts “the world’s fastest and most reliable content delivery network.” Founded in Los Angeles in 2006, EdgeCast has served such well-known internet giants as Yahoo, Twitter, Tumblr, Imgur, and Pinterest.
According to the official website, EdgeCast will cover just about everything:
“EdgeCast Transact is fully PCI Level 1-compliant, qualified to handle the most sensitive traffic. We also offer custom SSL certificates that integrate seamlessly into our global network.”
“Token authentication, SWF authentication, and RTMPE let you restrict access by IP, TTL, URL, location, or referrer.”
“See how your users are interacting with your content, where they are coming from, and how long they stick around.
“Major search engines now include site performance in their ranking calculus. The blazing speeds possible with EdgeCast can improve your rankings, traffic, and revenue.”
Using a CDN isn’t mandatory – but with the way load time is increasing becoming a determining factor in how much Google likes your site, it might as well be. If you do decide to try out a CDN, make an informed decision about whose services you want to utilize.
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