Kent Shelton, Former Senior Director of Architecture & Engineering, Market America | SHOP.COM
Long gone are the days of connecting to the internet with a modem and waiting for websites to load or spending hours downloading digital media. In today’s world, users expect content quickly and reliably. Slow or disrupted service leads to website abandonment costing company’s revenue, as well as, their reputation. This problem is compounded by the increase in mobile devices. Users want to stream music, watch high definition video, and shop online at any time and in any location.
In order to provide this type of service, more and more businesses have moved their storage to the Edge through the use of a content delivery network or CDN. The technical definition of a CDN is a system of distributed servers that deliver pages and other Web content to a user, based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the webpage and the content delivery server. In simple terms, it means locating your digital media and site content as close as possible to your consumer. For example, if your company is located in California and you have a user in Hong Kong that needs access to your content, you would not want them to have the additional overhead of going all the way back to California to access this content. Through the use of a CDN, the user would be able to access your content on a server located locally in Hong Kong.
It is often not feasible or cost effective to locate data centers throughout the world to provide this type of service. There are numerous companies that provide CDN services. Some of the most well-known CDN providers are Akamai, Cloudflare, and Amazon AWS. These companies provide access to their distributed network of servers located throughout the world. In general, CDNs provide 4 essential benefits:
1. Performance: We are basically talking about speed. CDNs take content from your origin servers and store a copy in cache on thousands of servers around the world. This allows users to connect with the closest servers providing them quick access to your content. If those local servers do not have the content, the request is redirected back to your origin server for the requested information. After this request, that content is then cached locally for future requests.
2. Availability: Flash sales, high definition streaming, and other events that could trigger a spike in user requests are often overwhelming to a company’s origin infrastructure. A CDN on the other hand can handle these spikes by distributing the load to as many servers as necessary without any manual intervention. CDNs detect changes in user requests and automatically reroute traffic to the fastest and most efficient servers.
3. Security: Your content is valuable and thus a target for Cyber Crime. DDoS attacks have increased and large companies are not the only target, far more frequently smaller to mid-size companies are attacked. CDNs are specifically designed to handle these attacks and divert them away from your infrastructure and protect your content. CDNs act as a barrier and shield against attacks.
4. Intelligence: Because CDNs monitor and route traffic globally, they can provide a unique set of data and analytics that can be very valuable to your company. CDNs provide information about browsers, connectivity, geolocation, and even specific browsing experiences. This data can be downloaded and analyzed to look for user patterns and trends or to identify issues that users are experiencing.
Data storage is really more than just size on disk. Companies need to understand their user base and determine how to deliver data and content in a reliable and high performing manner. CDNs provide companies of all sizes the ability to extend their reach globally without the overhead of infrastructure and maintenance. The goal should be to always provide a seamless web experience and CDNs are an excellent tool to utilize for accomplishing this end.