No business today can hope to thrive without the internet, and the internet itself depends on content. Whether it's the news or stock market info from the other side of the world, reviews of the latest products, or just a list of cat videos on BuzzFeed, content makes the internet go round. But how do you actually get this from your servers to end users in the fastest and most efficient way? The answer is usually a content delivery network, or CDN.
A CDN consists of a set of geographically diverse servers that work together to ensure internet content is delivered as fast and seamlessly as possible. They are the backbone of the internet, carrying everything from basic text web pages to rich multimedia content and the majority of today's web traffic.
Using a CDN offers faster load times to users by distributing content to the closest server. This, in turn, ensures a better user experience and can help keep people on your site longer as they won't have to put up with the frustration of waiting for content to load. It also helps reduce bandwidth costs and can help you handle more traffic.
With CDNs being so critical to internet performance, it's no surprise there are a wide range of options when looking for a provider. But not all networks are equal, so there are a few key factors you need to consider before making a decision:
1. What type of content are you distributing?
Understanding exactly what type of content you need to deliver is a basic question, but a vital one. For example, if you're sending out videos or other large content, you need much more bandwidth than if you're just relying on text. But this isn't the only factor to consider.
If your content is mostly static, you should look for the largest CDN solution that can distribute it through as many servers as possible. But if your site is more dynamic, your priority should be on strong connectivity and optimization to ensure new updates can get out as quickly as possible.
2. What platform are your customers using?
Browsing the internet no longer means sitting behind a keyboard, looking at a desktop monitor. By the end of the decade, 70% of the world's population will own a smartphone, and mobile network traffic is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 57% over the next few years.
Therefore, a CDN that is optimized for mobile will become increasingly important if this is how you expect the majority of your users to interact. The ability to offer high performance and intelligently provide users with pages tailored to their device will be a key factor in this.
3. Where are your users located?
A noted above, the key to a good CDN is the ability to deliver content from a nearby server, so it pays to look at both where your customers are, and where any potential provider focuses its efforts to make sure they align. If the majority of your traffic comes from North America, for instance, a CDN with servers primarily in Europe won't be the best option, even if that's where your business is based.
You also shouldn't just think about today - if you're planning a global expansion, considering how a CDN can scale to meet the needs of more users from other parts of the world is also vital.
4. What level of performance do you require?
It may be natural to assume that the highest-performing CDN with the fastest speeds and the most bandwidth, will be the best option, but this will usually come at a price. Think about what content you have and what your users expect, and ask yourself what level of performance you really need.
If your operations require real-time support and responsiveness, than speed is of the essence, but this won't apply to every business. You wouldn't buy a Ferrari just to head to the shops once in a while, so don't overspend on a CDN that offers more than you need.
5. What level of support is on offer?
CDN operators can vary widely in the level of assistance and support they offer. Some may be willing to work closely with you do identify your unique needs and tailor a solution to match, while others may take more of a one-size-fits-all approach. Look for providers that offer customization and flexibility - and make sure they have the ability to respond quickly to any changes in your content strategy that may affect the efficacy of the CDN.