CDN, otherwise known as Content Delivery Network, is a type of software which, despite coming across as convoluted and hard to get to grips with, is actually incredibly simple. It is somewhat of a silent assassin; working behind the scenes to make our online lives much easier.
In fact, most internet users probably rely on CDN on a daily basis without even knowing that they are using it, let alone what it does and how it works. Don’t worry if this is all new to you – by the end of this article you will know everything there is to know about CDN, so that you can delve deeper into the web world, more aware, and therefore better equipped.
Let’s get started!
So, if you didn’t already know, the web world is a pretty big place. Sometimes it can feel like the internet behind the screen of your laptop, or into your Wi-Fi router. However, the size of the internet is kind of in its name – world wide web.
It stretches across all of the far reaches of the world and is actually bigger than any of us could comprehend. It is in fact software like CDN which makes this ‘stretching’ process possible. We live in a global society, whereby with the right flight ticket we can travel to any country we want.
Nowadays, nowhere is off limits, and the same goes for the internet. If you were limited to only visiting websites made and based in your native country, the scope of your search would be drastically limited.
Let’s say you are based in the UK, but you want to access an Australian website. Despite the vast geographical distance, you wouldn’t expect the load time to be any different, simply because it is an Australian website, would you?
Well that is because CDNs are so good at doing their job. They increase the connection speed between your server and that Australian site by decreasing the distance.
But how? Great question…
How Does a CDN Work?
The internet may be smart, but it isn’t smart enough for things like time travel and space bending…so how can it possibly decrease the distance between your UK server and Australian site?
The answer is surprisingly much simpler than you would think. Let’s compare CDNs to oriental supermarkets. Let’s say you are dying for an authentic Pad Thai, but you can’t find all of the ingredients in your local supermarket.
You wouldn’t hop onto Skyscanner and book the next flight to Bangkok, all in the name of fish sauce! No, you would simply take a trip to your nearest oriental supermarket and find the ingredients there.
Well CDNs work in a similar way. CDNs connect with PoPs (Points of Presence) which are essentially servers that are dotted around the world. These PoPs would be responsible for storing a version of the Australian website you were searching for, meaning the data is closer and more accessible to you, meaning a quicker load time.
CDNs are responsible for connecting you to these PoPs, acting as the middleman between your server and the site you seek. So, where an oriental supermarket stores a version of the ingredients you seek for your Pad Thai in your local area, CNDs store a version of the foreign website in PoPs, connecting you to the closest PoP when you search for the foreign site.
Sure, the supermarket can store static objects, such as dried noodles, spices and curry paste, all of which could come from Thailand. However, just because these products originate in Thailand, you wouldn’t expect to find Bangkok’s floating markets or the famous Emerald Buddha Temple in the oriental store.
The same goes for CDNs and dynamic websites (which are essentially websites in which the user and site interact). Therefore, whilst CDNs can speed up the connection speed between your server and foreign web content, they can’t always be relied on to deliver you dynamic content.
You win some, you lose some.
The Importance of Website Speed Optimisation
Whilst the web world is pretty confusing to most newbies, there is one underlining notion which remains consistent in all areas of tech; if you want your website/software to be successful, it needs to be fast.
Over the past decade, the speed and sophistication of the internet has advanced at such an exponential rate that internet users now expect lightning fast speed and nothing less.
Gone are the days of dial-up, waiting around for 5 minutes simply to load one page. The modern attention span is unfortunately a short one, so your website page speed simply has to accommodate.
Picture this; you want to buy a new kettle. You type ‘kettle for sale’ into your search bar and hundreds of pages show up, instantly. You click on the top one and are left waiting for, let’s say, 7 seconds. It may sound like nothing, but in reality, we are so used to web pages that load in under 1 second that I would be surprised if your patience even lasted past 3 seconds.
With hundreds of other pages selling kettles available to you, a simple back-click and you are on a fast-loading page. Furthermore, you won’t be the only person to give up on waiting on that first website that day, meaning its bounce rates will dramatically increase, lowering its ratings.
Not good at all.
So, website speed is important – but how does this relate to CDN’s? Well, as previously mentioned, the aim of CDNs is to improve the load speed of geographically dispersed webpages.
This means that, especially if you expect your website to receive a lot of traffic from users located in other countries, a CDN will dramatically improve your website’s load time, therefore improving its overall performance and popularity.
CDNs improve the load time by storing your site’s data onto a global database in a cached format, so that when a user requests access to said data, it is ready and waiting for them.
Benefits of Using a Content Delivery Network
Are you sold on CDNs yet? Not quite? That’s okay – it’s good to get a full picture of the product you are considering investing on, that’s smart investments.
We have already touched on the way in which CDNs can improve your website’s load time, an improvement which will go a long way in propelling your website ahead of its competition.
However, the benefits of using CDNs does not end there. CDNs have a fair few tricks up their sleeve, sure to intrigue even the most sceptical web user.
Improved User Experience and Site Performance
One of these tantalising tricks is that using a CDN can actually reduce your costs, by removing the need for you to access foreign servers. Furthermore, they can help with bandwidth allocation, freeing up your site’s available bandwidth to allow for more traffic and, you guessed it, faster load times.
The great thing about a website having more available bandwidth is that it therefore has a stronger uptime rating.
Uptime refers to the amount of time a website is live and available to take online traffic – pretty important in the web world, as when a website is down, it essentially does not exist. This effectively means that, with more space to host multiple users at once, there is a much lower chance of the website crashing, leading to a low uptime, which can consequently be devastating for a website’s ratings.
Therefore, in addition to increasing the loading speed of your site, increasing the available bandwidth for your site and decreasing your site’s costs, CDNs can improve your site’s uptime, arguably one of the most important things to cultivate in order to ensure your website is a success.
Better Security and Availabilty
And if that isn’t enough to sell you on CDNs, they can also enhance your site’s security. This is due to the fact that CDNs are the first port of call in a web interaction between user and server, therefore they are often the first software to detect potential cyber-attacks and viruses.
There are two primary lines of defence which CDNs can trigger against potential attacks; Common Exploit Scanning and Automated Attack Identification. Furthermore, CDNs work like traffic wardens; dispersing online traffic in order to avoid a damaging DDoS attack (denial of service), which attempt to flood your site with traffic.
That’s pretty impressive.
Choosing a CDN for Your Website
They may say that the best things in life come for free, but there are definite exceptions to this rule. A huge amount of the online world is now free; therefore, it can sting to part with hard-earned money for online investments.
However, sometimes paying for software is exactly that; an investment. Furthermore, there are often different price plans offered on software such as CDN, tailored to the various needs of different web users.
If you have a small website which you use as an online portfolio for your work, things like bandwidth, security and website speed are going to be a lot less important to you than, let’s say, a large-scale online shop.
Companies tend to reflect this in their pricing, so there may even be some free CDN options out there for you.
Let’s take a closer look at the 10 biggest players in the CDN game…
The Best Content Delivery Networks 2021
StackPath also offers a free 30-day trial, with prices after this starting at £7.69 per month for the basic plan, giving you 1TB of bandwidth, origin shield and DDoS protection.
The more advanced plan comes in at £15.38 per month, along with the added features including unlimited EdgeRules, managed DNS and StackPath’s Web Application Firewall.
However, StackPath are limited to operating solely in the US and Europe (apart from a few exceptions) and, unfortunately, do not have the best track record for performance.
You are able to try Fastly for free and they provide everything you will need to get started. Once you’ve completed your testing trails they charge a minimum of $50 per month (roughly £35.41) depending on your usage.
There basic package comes with 3TB global delivery per month, 30mm Image Optimiser images per month and you can secure up to 10 domains using their non-profit CA/BYO certificates.
Their top-end package comes with unlimited global deliver as well as customer image optimiser and TLS. Fastly is used by huge companies such as Amazon, The Guardian and even the UK government.
Akamai is fairly renowned in the CDN world, covering around 30% of the world’s web traffic. Pretty impressive. They have a great performance reputation, as well as loads of alluring added features.
However, there are a few issues associated with Akamai’s advanced service. For example, it can be a fairly complicated service to set up if you are new to the online world. Furthermore, their pricing is pretty vague, and it seems that you need to contact the company directly to find out more about their pricing.
Essentially, if you are a web pro, Akamai is a good shout for you. If not, maybe stick to a simpler service.
Sucuri are mainly an internet security company which offers CDN as part of their security package. They charge annually, and while they don’t have a free trail they do have a 30 day money back guarantee.
Their basic plan is $199.99 (£144.76 approx.) per site per year. and gives you CDN performance, malware and hack scans every 12 hours, malware removal and hack cleanup amongst other things.
Their most popular package is Pro at $299.99 (£217.20), gives you scans every 6 hours plus added SSL certification. The Business package is $499.99 (£362.01), scans every 30 minutes and removes malware every 6 hours.
Bunny.net gives you a 14 day free trial to test out its capabilities. It has two pricing plans, with the standard being $0.01 per GB (which is less than a penny) and one for high bandwidth projects at $0.005/GB for the first 500TB, $0.004/GB from 500TB-1PB, $0.003/GB from 1PB-2PM and $0.0025/GB from 2PB+.
Bunny.net offers CDN, streaming, edge storage and optimisation. It takes no time to set up and is the best WordPress CDN on the market. This plug-in has got some great reviews as it’s very user friendly and affordable.
Offering a totally free plan, Cloudflare are your best bet if you are just starting out in the web world, with a small website. However, this free plan is extremely basic, covering only 3 online pages and having somewhat limited security features, offering only DDoS protection.
You can upgrade to Cloudflare Pro (£16 per month) and Cloudflare Business (£160 per month), for added features such as the capacity to cover 20-50 web pages, image optimization, SSL Certification and PCI Compliance. Great features, however, at quite a cost.
KeyCDN’s prices are advertised as low, and remain low, even on the most advanced plan. Interestingly, they charge based on the amount of bandwidth your website requires, with prices starting at £0.03 per gigabyte of data.
Furthermore, they offer a 30-day free trial, with an alluring 25GB of data to play with, so that you can test out the software before committing to it.
However, if you want to continue using KeyCDN after this trial, you have to pay £39 upfront, which sounds like a dramatic jump-up. Despite this, £39 will give you full access to all of their features, at a much lower cost than Cloudflare.
Imperva is another internet security company that covers data and application security as well as CDN. They offer load balancing, failover and content caching built into a comprehensive WAPP.
They provide a free plan that gives you bot mitigation, CDN and two-factor authentication. Their paid plans are $59 (around £42.72) per site monthly for the Pro plan, which adds web app firewall, advanced performance PCI compliance reports, backdoor protection and SSL support to the basic feature.
The Business plan is $299 (£216.49) per site monthly and includes all the Pro features plus protections from DDoS attacks in the network and application layers as well as auto-detection and triggering.
Rackspace charges based on traffic use and requests. There start at $0.10 (about 7p) per GB for the first 10TB which drops to $0.02 (just over 1p) for traffic above 5PB. They also offer $100 of free credit to start you off.
They do charge for requests too, but a million requests is only around 60p, so it won’t break the bank. They don’t use their own servers, instead using Akamia, who are one of the biggest providers around and have been found to be faster than most in independent testing.
So the plus is that you get access to Akamai’s fast CDN network, but the downside is that some users have found that the limited features available aren’t worth the price tag.
#10. Amazon Cloudfront
Amazingly, Amazon CloudFront have a Free Usage Tier, allowing customers 50GB of traffic per month for a whole year. Wow. From this point onwards, and for more advanced features, Amazon
CloudFront charge around £0.65 per gigabyte of data delivered, with a few other additional costs thrown in, such as technical support and data requests. Admittedly, the pricing is pretty confusing, and with its pay-as-you-go mentality, it can be easy for costs to add up pretty quickly.
Despite this, the performance is strong and you can’t go far wrong with a free plan which lasts for a whole year.
So, after all of that, the question is whether a CDN is right for your website or not. Ultimately, we would suggest that if you’re only just starting out in the web world, with a small website which you don’t expect to hold much traffic, then maybe you don’t need a CDN.
Here’s a quick recap of the Best Content Delivery Networks in this guide:
It’s always a good addition to a website, so perhaps try out a couple of free plans to see if they suit you, and if not, at least you tested the waters. It’s also good to note that most web hosting providers offer CDN’s for free in some of their hosting plans.
Conversely, if your website has a high level of web traffic, especially traffic from foreign countries, you’d be a fool not to invest in a CDN. It will dramatically increase your website’s speed, performance and overall ratings, even if these changes come at a slight monetary cost.