How Can a Content Delivery Network Help Me and Do I Need One?

Hosting a modern website can be very demanding on multiple fronts, but one of the most challenging parts of the whole ordeal remains in the organization of the way you’re delivering content to your clients. The problem is that a typical modern website may require a significant amount of data storage, not to mention bandwidth for sending that data to its users. Even if you spend a lot of money on your hosting, it may be far from enough to cover all of your needs properly.

That’s where a Content Delivery Network (CDN) comes in play. It’s a relatively recent addition to the array of tools available to webmasters, at least compared to most other types of technologies used in site development and hosting, and it can be very helpful in reducing the load on your servers and making your customers happy.

Basic principles

The fundamental idea of a CDN is that the company has multiple servers hosted all over the globe, each covering some specific geographic location. When a user requests some resource from your site – such as a large picture – your server redirects them to the CDN, which then serves the resource to the user.

The CDN does this in a very complex way, identifying the best server to handle the request and performing various other types of optimizations. And best of all, it does this all in a fraction of a second so there’s no perceivable delay to your user. What’s more, things will actually seem faster to your users most of the time thanks to the way CDNs work, and you will never get any complaints about slow loading times, lack of responsiveness, or any other common issues that tend to arise when your own servers get overloaded.

Is it right for me?

Knowing what a CDN can do is great, but there’s still the question of whether you specifically need one or not. This depends a lot on the way your site is structured, and whether you’re serving a large volume of “heavy” content, such as videos, high-resolution pictures, and other similar resources. The situation will also change according to the type of experience you’re trying to deliver to your users. In some cases people will actually not care that much about slower loading times and a CDN will not make any perceivable impact on quality.

Things like social networks and news sites are a prime example of services that definitely need a CDN and can typically benefit a lot from one. CDNs are especially useful when dealing with a lot of user-generated content, and if you’re running a site where users can upload pictures or something along those lines, you should definitely think about organizing your storage and delivery with a CDN.

Considering the long-term implications

A CDN is of course not free, and the cost of the service is something you’ll want to factor in the decision. It will sometimes turn out that you may actually end up saving some money by offloading some of your data to a CDN, but that’s not always the case. In fact, sometimes a CDN can run up significant costs for you in a relatively short time, and it’s important to keep an eye on the pricing plans and other factors to figure out if it will work out in your favor.

If you have a very special situation on your hands, such as a site of a particularly large scale, you may want to talk to the CDN company directly and see if they may be able to cut you a better deal. That only tends to work in some more niche cases though, but it can’t hurt to try, especially if your projections are indicating huge costs for your CDN already.

Also, make sure to compare the different deals available to you at the moment very carefully, as it’s not rare for CDN companies to run special promotions and other attractive discounts from time to time that can give you a much better value for your money. This is separate from our advice to get in touch with the company to get a better deal, and it mostly comes down to carefully scouting the market to find the best offer.

Don’t forget to keep checking in the future as well, as you may eventually find a much better offer for your current needs. It’s often not difficult to switch to a different CDN if you decide to, and it can sometimes be very beneficial to you if you plan ahead carefully. Just make sure that it’s not going to slow down your operations significantly in the downtime period though, as this can completely kill any incentive you might have to use a CDN in the first place, making the whole experience futile.

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