What are the benefits of a CDN?

Performance, Availability, Security, and Intelligence are the hallmarks of an advanced CDN

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What Are the Benefits of a CDN?

If you don’t know much about Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs, then this Learning Center is the place to start. If you already know the basics, then feel free to check out the other links on this page to find another topic. Keep checking back as we continue to add new content every month.

CDNs carry a significant portion of the world’s Internet traffic. They are ubiquitous in presence and mitigate the toughest challenges of delivering content over the Internet. But why are CDNs so pervasive? Why is it that everyone, from small and medium content providers, to the world’s large corporations rely on CDNs to provide a seamless web experience to their end users?

CDNs became an essential tool to successfully conduct business online for one main reason: the Internet was not originally architected to do all of the amazing things that it does today! It simply wasn’t built to handle the demands of massive amount of data, live high definition video, flash sales, and large downloads that people expect today. CDNs were specifically built to make the Internet work better, deliver media at scale, and to enable all of the connected experiences you can imagine.

In specific terms, CDN technology should provide the following primary benefits to a business: 

  • Performance 
  • Availability 
  • Security
  • Intelligence

Performance

What does performance mean? It means connected content delivered at speed. It’s the difference between a click giving you immediate access to new content, and a click then a 7 second wait while a page loads or a video buffers.

How does it work? When requested content is cached (pre-saved) by a CDN’s servers, end users will get that content by connecting to the nearest CDN server rather than waiting for their request to go directly to the origin. This results in a significant performance improvement for the end user. For example, let’s say that Fashion House X (FHX) from Milan, Italy, releases its new line-up for online orders. Fashion lovers in New York, Paris, Rio De Janeiro, and Tokyo all go online to make their orders. If FHX isn’t using a cloud content management system, the request from each end user must go all the way to Milan and back. However, if FHX uses a CDN and has pre-warmed its content across the CDN, each user can access the new content from servers directly in their city, saving their data hundreds or thousands of miles in round-trip time.

What if the content isn’t already in cache? When a CDN server does not have the content in its cache, it is able to traverse the length and breadth of the Internet using its programmed knowledge of the inter-connections between itself and its companion CDN servers. This helps it overcome the challenges of peering between multiple ISPs, lost packets due to network outages, and the time lost in DNS resolution. Advanced CDNs also have other specific technologies to deal with dynamic, or uncacheable, content.

All of this means that via a CDN, content providers can deliver fast, quality web experiences to all their end users; no matter what location, browser, device, or network they’re connecting from. Webpages render faster, video buffering time is reduced, users stay more engaged, and content providers get more business!

Availability

Availability means that content remains accessible to end users under high-stress situations such as excessive user traffic, intermittent spikes, and potential server outages.

When traffic loads peak at millions of requests per second, even the most powerful origin servers would be put to the test. Without a CDN, all this traffic has to be absorbed by a content provider’s origin infrastructure. This can cause the origin to fail, resulting in a terrible end user experience and lost business. That’s when CDNs, with their massively distributed server infrastructure, are of immense value. Advanced CDNs, with their highly distributed architecture and massive server platforms can absorb tens of TBps of traffic and make it possible for content providers to stay available to larger user bases than otherwise possible.

As an example, let’s return to Fashion House X (FHX) in Milan. FHX’s brand is beloved by millions of fashion lovers, and their new line-up generates a lot of excitement. At the moment of launch, fashion lovers from all over the world go online to FHX’s website at the same moment. If FHX is not using a CDN, all of those users would hit their origin server at the same time, causing it to fail. However, if FHX is using a CDN, all of that traffic will be served across the CDN’s hundreds of thousands of servers, keeping FHX’s origin from failing and delivering a quality experience to fashion lovers across the globe.

Security

As the volume of high-value data and transactions on the Internet continues to grow, so do the forces of attackers looking to exploit it – and these forces are costing organizations big money. According to a report by the Ponemon Institute of Cyber Crime, in 2015 businesses around the world suffered average losses of $7.7 million due to cybercrime. Along with crimes committed by malicious insiders, DDoS and web-based attacks were found to be the costliest.

According to Akamai’s own State of the Internet / Security Report the number of both DDoS attacks and web-based exploits (SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and local or remote file-inclusion attacks) are becoming more common as well. These attacks are also increasingly launched in conjunction using a DDoS to divert attention while causing more serious damage with other exploits. In both types of attacks, it is often difficult to distinguish bad traffic from legitimate traffic, and strategies continue to evolve rapidly over time, requiring significant dedicated security resources in order to stay up to date on mitigation strategies.

Given the increasing volatility of the Internet threat landscape, helping to secure websites is a critical CDN requirement. Today’s most advanced CDNs, such as Akamai, have made information security a core competency, providing unique cloud-based solutions. CDNs should protect content providers and users by mitigating against a wide array of attacks without malicious entities ever compromising delivery and availability.

Intelligence

As carriers of nearly half of the world’s Internet traffic, CDN providers generate vast amounts of data about end user connectivity, device types, and browsing experiences across the globe. They can expose this data to their customers, thus giving them critical, actionable insights, and intelligence into their user base. In the case of Akamai, this includes Real-User Monitoring and Media Analytics to measure end-user engagement with web content, and Cloud Security Intelligence to keep track of online threats.

Akamai also makes some data available to the public via its State of the Internet series of reports, with one currently focusing on global broadband trends, and the other focused on the information security landscape. You can download these reports here.

Conclusion

By providing solutions for performance, availability, security, and intelligence, CDNs help the world’s top companies and organizations do business successfully online. We hope you enjoyed this article. For other questions about CDN, please visit our other links, and check back for new content monthly.

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