Do you have clients all over the world? Then you need a Content Delivery Network to speed up your site.
Before I begin let me be up front and state that we at Brand Builder Websites do not do business with any Content Delivery Network. This post is purely informative.
What is a Content Delivery Network?
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers located around the world. These servers only host static files like images and PDFs. When a user accesses a website with files hosted on a CDN they will get the files from the closest server. Files being located closer to the user will make the site load faster. Since sites are mostly made up of static files you will see the most benefit to the site load by decreasing the load time for these files.
Additionally, no files served from a Content Delivery Network will include any cookies. Cookies are small bits of tracking information used to store session data. A web browser sends cookies on every request to and from a server for files on that domain. Since these files will not have any cookies there is less information being sent back and forth and thus the site loads faster.
What Should I Look for in a Content Delivery Network?
There are a couple different ranking factors to consider when choosing a CDN. Here are a few things you should think about:
- Server location. Every CDN has servers located around the globe. The number of servers and exact locations differ. Compared their coverage to your site’s user base.
- How the CDN gets your files. There are two different types of ways that a CDN will get your files. They are called push and origin pull.
In a push CDN you log in to your account and upload the files yourself. This method is good for the user as they get distributed across servers in the CDN faster. This method needs more overhead to upload the files separately from your main site.
In an origin pull the CDN does all the work of retrieving the file from a copy on your server at the time of the first request. This is much simpler for maintenance since there is no further overhead on your part. This method does mean that the first download request is slower than later requests since the CDN needs to download the file before it puts it into the system.
If you’re moving to a Content Delivery Network from a single host environment you’ll need to re-write the HTML of every link to the file. This process is tedious unless you developed your site with this in mind and have a URL rewriter already in place.
- Secure (HTTPS) support. Do you need to secure your site? Then you need a Content Delivery Network that supports HTTPS connections. Given the extra overhead needed for HTTPS this may come at a slightly higher cost.
- SPDY Support. If you need HTTPS support then look for a CDN that supports the SPDY protocol. SPDY improves the load time in the most recent versions of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, and soon Safari.
- Dynamic Content Acceleration. The ability to speed up dynamically generated content for each user from your server. Content like this typically occurs for sites with a shopping cart.
Who are the Major Content Delivery Networks?
As with anything in tech this could all change at a drop of a hat, but the following are major players at the time of this writing.
- Akami. Akami is the absolute leader in this field. Akami’s ability is impeccable and thus the high costs. Costs that they don’t even need to list because if you truly need them then you definitely are large enough you can pay. Their customers include: Adobe, Apple, IBM, Sony, BBC, CNet, Best Buy, the NBA, Red Hat, NBC, Fox Broadcasting, the NFL, Ticketmaster, Nintendo, Verizon, WWE, and Yahoo.
- Max CDN. Max CDN is a very competent Content Delivery Network. They pioneered the SPDY support for the Nginx web server. Unlike Akami, Max CDN’s prices are easily within the reach of most businesses. Possibly the cheapest prices in the industry. For small businesses you will find they have the fastest average response time. They also have the lowest error rate of any smaller CDN. They are great for your typical website. They are not ideal if you are a gaming or software business.
- Amazon Cloudfront. I must include Amazon Cloudfront simply because it’s Amazon. You know who they are. Amazon knows about shopping carts and thus is great at Dynamic Content Acceleration. Amazon’s prices are competitive, but I have heard bad things in regards to support and high response times.
- Cachefly. Great security and very simple. Not as fast or as cheap as Max CDN but offers more locations and can handle gaming and software businesses. Only major missing feature is Dynamic Content Acceleration.
- CDNetworks. CDNetworks has a very high number of physical servers around the globe. Probably the most a small business will see. Supposedly they are a little harder to work with and do not list pricing. One good thing about them is that they do support Dynamic Content Acceleration.
- Level 3. Has many locations and good support. Average speed between Max CDN and Cachefly. Can support gaming/software and Dynamic Content Acceleration. Non-transparent pricing and the highest error rate you’ll see. If the name Level 3 sounds familiar it’s because they are the middle men handling traffic for Netflix that Verizon claims is the cause of slow down. Whether that is true or Verizon is trying to double bill is up for debate.
Who you choose as a Content Delivery Network is up to you. You’ll must consider your needs and find the one that is best for you. If pressed for a recommendation for a typical small business I would suggest you consider Max CDN as a first resource. Best times, low prices, and great reputation and features make them a great first choice.
Thank you and keep building your brand.