Users expect that all elements of your web site will load in an instant: text, graphics, URLs and scripts, downloadable media files, software, documents, e-commerce applications, portals, streaming media, and the ubiquitous social networks. That’s a lot to handle, even for the most advanced sites. How can you optimize your web site for heightened response times and blazing fast performance without skimping on content or compromising your slick design?
One way is by using a Content Delivery Network or Content Distribution Network (CDN) to quickly load static elements of your site for faster access and greater user satisfaction.
Basically, a CDN is a number of highly optimized web servers located around the globe. A CDN is beneficial for almost any organization with a Web presence, in any industry; CDNs can benefit any heavily-trafficked sites, including video sites or sites that offer other types of downloadable files, and sites that have been promoted on Digg.com or other “trending” web sites.
CDNs work by distributing static data to geographically disperse servers worldwide. When users access the site, static content will be delivered from the server that’s closest to their physical location using Pull URLs that point to a specific directory on your servers. This leads to huge performance improvements for sites that have visitors from all across the world.
One of the most performance-intensive types of media is audio files. As Rackspace’s Phillip Thomas points out, “A music or podcast file may easily be larger than the rest of a webpage combined.” The same holds true for streaming video; files can be so massive that quick and fast streaming would be impossible without CDN technology, Thomas says.
Making sure that the file plays back quickly and seamlessly can be a headache, unless you’re using a cloud storage solution like Rackspace Cloud Files and have some static elements delivered via a CDN. Rackspace Cloud Files is optimized to serve, for instance, podcasts, streaming video, music files and the like to millions of users at blazing speeds.
In addition to boosting performance, CDNs save money for all of the organizations that deploy them, since a CDN offloads the traffic served directly from the origin infrastructure. In addition, CDNs provide a degree of protection from denial-of-service (DoS) attacks by using their large, distributed server infrastructure to absorb any large volumes of attack traffic.
The Yahoo! Developer Network’s Exceptional Performance Team has some tips for anyone looking to implement a CDN to enhance performance.
The team stresses first that it’s not necessary to completely redesign your web applications to work in such a distributed architecture. This would require some herculean tasks; synchronizing session state and replicating database transactions across server locations, among others, the team said. In addition, for most organizations, using a third-party CDN service provider is most cost effective, since the cost of the service can be prohibitive for start-ups and small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs).
Akamai and Rackspace are two providers that offer the service, and as an added bonus, with the Akamai CDN, you can manage your CDN directly from your smartphone, both Apple iOS and Android devices.
Using a CDN can eliminate many of the speed, accessibility and performance issues users encounter, and can help keep users coming back.
Sharon Florentine is a freelance writer who covers everything from holistic veterinary care to data center technology and occasionally blogs for cloud provider Rackspace Hosting.