Is a Content Delivery Network Right For Me?

February 29, 2008
Much is made about the power that a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can add to multi-media websites. The CDN’s caching technology brings the content closer to the user, decreasing download times and greatly reducing the load placed on the origin server. Many people and businesses benefit from CDNs in monstrous ways; however, there are times where a CDN may not be the best solution for a given situation. Any online business would do well to ask the question: is a CDN the right choice for me?

In the beginning, the Internet didn’t have a lot of bandwidth to go around. Content Delivery Networks were invented to bring large amounts of content to users and circumvent the limitations of the Internet, allowing more data to be transferred using less space. With the way the Internet has expanded over the last several years, the value of Content Delivery Networks has increased dramatically.

When evaluating your company’s need for a Content Delivery Network, there are several CDN business models to consider:

  • Customer origin model

    Using this model, the client retains content on a storage server inside their own internal network. In terms of the CDN, the origin server is still contained inside the client network. This gives the client total control over what happens on the origin server. Since the server is maintained onsite, this model may take additional time and resources to fully implement.

  • Offload model

    Here, the origin server is placed on the CDN, outside the client network. Management capability is not quite as high, but maintenance needs are much lower because the company providing the CDN will take care of that, and you still fully control the content placed on your origin server. With this model, it is easy to have Mother clusters set up in order to hide the origin server from the Internet, and only have the Mother servers communicate with the outside world.

  • Custom model

    This model combines the customer origin and offload models. Static content is offloaded to the CDN, while dynamic content is kept locally and served from the origin server. The custom CDN model effectively gives the best of both worlds between the customer origin and offload models.

So when is a CDN useful? A CDN is useful when you have a lot of content that doesn’t change very often – static content can be cached on the “edge” servers for users to pull from. If content is constantly changing, the caching servers will be updated constantly, defeating the purpose of caching. Because the caching servers will be sending multiple repeated requests back to the origin server, it may be more effective to have those requests go straight to the origin server from the user and strengthen the origin hardware to handle the requests.

For example: a stock ticker updates in real time, so there is nothing to cache. Movie sites, picture galleries and other static pieces are ideal for CDNs because they can be cached for long periods of time, closer to the user. Static content does not need to stay completely static, however; for each piece of content, a Time-To-Live (TTL) can be set so that when the specified time interval elapses, the caching server will send a request to the origin server to update the content.

Content Delivery Networks have a wide range of uses, from network scaling to Web site performance increase. There are times, however, where a CDN may not be the ideal solution. In essence, the more static content a site has, the more useful a CDN will be.

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Brian Lowy is a CDN Account Executive for ecsuite.com; a leading provider of Content Delivery Networks (CDN), wholesale IP Transit, IP Transport, website hosting, and content protection. Learn more about  Content Delivery Networks at ecsuite.com
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CDN Study

February 15, 2008

We take performance and satisfaction very seriously, we decided to task our Policy Review group with testing sites from our main offices, as well as other locations around the globe, to uncover the major performance differences from different geo locations and during certain peak times.

We began by mapping out the prime purchasing time for products, which is between 4 pm to 10 pm (per time zone), with the global population concentrations that have relatively easy access to the internet, and the ability to pay for products online.

What we found was that from 10 – 35% of the users in that time slot could not purchase products from our client’s websites because of very slow connectivity issues. These tests were conducted on Client sites in a variety of cities with a strong history of purchasing power (i.e. London), and ultimately these sites would take a very long time to load, and/or their media content would lag and thus be un-usable.

With this information, we believe it is important for you to consider that your site may be quick for a good portion of your users, but you may have a small-to-mid percentage of visitors who have the ability to pay for your content, and have access to the internet, but are finding it difficult to join your site or view your content because they are getting download speeds of 2k/sec.

In an effort to address our side of these issues, some months ago we placed all our Sign up Form images (banners, logos, etc.) on a Content Delivery Network* (a network of servers around the globe that enables content on the network to be loaded from the closest/fastest “node” to the user). As a result of this switch, we have seen a 16% decrease in form load times, most notably in Western Europe, due to the use of CDN in the delivery of our ECSuite Forms.

We think the next step in addressing the balance of the website performance issues is to encourage the use of Content Delivery Networks across our client base. Almost every major US website uses content delivery in some form or another in the delivery of their high-traffic and bandwidth pages and images. Because of this increase in the amount of CDN bandwidth, pricing for content delivery is generally now the same as regular bandwidth pricing. Best of all, CDN does not require additional hardware, so there is really no downside to using these systems.

In closing, we at ECSuite want to support our entire Client-base in their efforts to:
-maximize site performance
-decrease lost sales and increase member retention
-increase of overall revenue

To assist you in this process, below is the CDN provider that ECSuite is working with that has the technology to support your Software, Protected Member’s Content, plus flash and windows media streaming technology:

* EC Suite Secured Servers CDN – 2 week free trial. Test the performance difference between your current Host and CDN with no commitment or automatic billing. One call to us at the end of your trial places you back with your current hosting provider.

Many thanks,

Mark Greenspan
VP of ECSuite Risk

Heres an example CDN performance test from Test Your Host

TestYourHost.com

*Below for your information, are some commonly asked questions about CDN:

GENERAL CDN FAQ’S

What does CDN stand for and how does it work?
A Content Delivery Network is a network of servers around the globe. When you “offload” your content on a CDN your content gets distributed over this global network and as a result, when your users access your content, they get it from the closest “node”, rather than from the location your servers are at.

How easy is it to set up?
No additional equipment required. The host name DNS is redirected to the CDN provider and they start to cache right away. The system has tremendous flexibility so you can determine what gets cached and what doesn’t and for how long. Set up can be done in a few days

How can I trust CDN?
CDN technology has been around for more than 10 years and every major website in the US uses it in some form or other. Small/medium businesses haven’t had access to this before since most of the major players have previously not dealt with smaller clients, this attitude has recently changed with the first Major provider (Level 3) allowing hosting and bandwidth companies to become resellers.

How would CDN benefit me?
Revenue – Clients have reported speed increases of 100%+ in load times for images and videos on their tours, which translates to shorter wait times for the users and a higher numbers of clicks proceeding to the signup form

Availability – with better performance and less dropped connections users will have higher likelihood to complete transactions and access content quickly.

Scalability – If there is an expected or unexpected spike in traffic (ie: a mention on MSNBC) CDN allows you to efficiently absorb the bandwidth with continued lightning fast performance.

Who uses CDN?
The list of people who use CDN is a who’s who from CNN to Disney, Yahoo, Google, etc. High traffic web sites have been benefiting from this technology for years.

Do I have to be a certain size before I can use CDN?
CDN can be implemented on websites of nearly any size. You can host just the pictures/video on the CDN or host the entire website.