Is CDN For You?

Content Delivery Networks (or CDNs) are very useful and can solve many problems for websites who value availability and user experience. However, they’re not exactly a requirement and whether or not you need one for your site depends on various factors.

But First, What is CDN?


Single Server vs. CDN

CDNs are essentially designed to address problems with global availability, bandwidth constraints, and latency. If the server that hosts your website’s files are located in the US while the user browsing them is in France, the request for the data and the data itself will have to travel from the US to France. Data travels fast, especially now that we have fiber optic cables serving as the pathways, but the time it takes to make a roundtrip is still affected by distance and the number of data that must travel (it’s not uncommon for a single page from a website to contain at least 100 objects that need to be sent to and fro.)

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A CDN addresses the problem of latency by caching static resources in edge caches (or points of presence – basically distributed servers) located in various parts of the world, ensuring that the resources can be accessed in places that are nearer to the user, thereby reducing round trip time.

Additionally, a CDN will also reduce bandwidth costs because not every request for data will be answered by your host’s servers, some of the requests will be handled by the POPs, particularly for users closer to them. Availability too, will be slightly solved as CDNs will remain available to service users with a mirror of your site even if your original host’s servers go down.

So, Is a CDN a Must?

A CDN is a good thing for any site, but it is not necessary a must nor a requirement. In fact, there are large, massively trafficked websites that don’t use any CDNs at all. Additionally, a CDN is an added expense. It has become cheaper and more cost effective these past few years, but they’re not cheap enough to be negligible as far as operating costs go. You need to take the following into consideration in order to find out if a CDN is for you:

1. If you’re hosting locally and majority of your users are based locally (this is particularly true if your site is in a local language and readable only by people who understand the language,) a CDN won’t be useful and will probably just a waste of money.

2. If your website is not generating enough profit and isn’t really a massive traffic generating page, you might want to hold off on getting a CDN. It won’t be used much and its cost will only eat away at a budget that is much better spent elsewhere.

3. There’s no need to get a CDN if your site is hosted on a provider with robust servers that are mirrored in various locations, because technically they’re already doing the work of a CDN.

4. Absolutely get a CDN if none of the previous cases apply, and if website availability is crucial. This is especially true for websites that serve as portals or social networking hubs. Even the slightest nanosecond of downtime should not be felt by your users and your site should always be responsive. If you need these things and you can shoulder the added cost, absolutely get a CDN.

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