The Importance of a CDN
Using a Content Distribution Network, also known as a CDN, can help you significantly reduce page load times for your website. They also often contribute to load balancing, bad bot mitigation, increased reliability, and more.
With free CDN solutions available, there is little reason not to use one to improve your website performance. Today we’ll be sharing more about these handy services you can use to ramp up your site speed and reliability.
What is a CDN?
CDNs are networks that help websites reduce latency during page load. When a web browser sends a request to your website, that request needs to travel a physical distance from the browser’s location to where your hosting server resides.
Latency is the time taken for data to traverse the distance between browser to web server and back. The further the distance – the higher the latency.
For instance, a request made from a browser in New York to a server in Dallas will typically have a much shorter latency period than making a request from New York to Singapore.
How Does a CDN Work?
CDNs work by caching some of your website content in multiple server locations. For example, your web server may be in Texas, but the CDN could be caching parts of it in Europe, Asia, Australia, and all across the world.
When a visitor makes a request intended for your website, the request will first go to the CDN. As the content delivery network receives these requests, two things will happen.
First, the CDN starts serving cached data from the server closest to where the request originated. Simultaneously, the CDN passes the request to your web server, which loads all other elements.
How Can a CDN Help Your Website?
When used effectively, content delivery networks help websites in many ways. CDN solutions bring many advantages to the table and come at different price rates that cover projects of any size.
Core areas that CDNs can improve include:
By serving data from a location close to where a request originates, the CDN gives your web server more time to complete the remainder of the request. This extra time helps boost your overall site performance, leading to a better user experience.
By partially taking the load from your website visitors, CDNs also reduce resource strain on your web server. This reduction means you can serve a larger number of website visitors with fewer server resources involved.
The multiple servers used by CDNs to cache your website content also offer the benefit of load balancing. If your web server gets too many requests, it will try to handle them all. And when the demand for system resources exceeds the server capacity – your website starts to fail.
With a CDN in play, all requests first pass through a load balancer. It splits up requests and sends them to different servers on the CDN, potentially allowing your website to offer a much higher degree of resilience.
CDN solutions help increase website security in various ways. They can mitigate Distributed Denial of Service attacks, SQL injections, CSS attacks, and more. While the sum of defenses that CDNs offer may vary, one common element is often a Web Application Firewall (WAF).
WAFs serve as a monitoring station, filtering all traffic through the CDN. They can block malicious attacks and, in many cases, intelligently assess traffic patterns to detect other potential threats.
How to Set Up a CDN?
Because CDN solutions sit in front of your website, implementing the service is generally straightforward. The most common method is to replace your existing nameservers with those provided by the CDN service.
As an example, let’s examine the process with Cloudflare:
- Sign up for a Cloudflare CDN Account. During this step, you’ll need to provide Cloudflare with your website URL.
- Cloudflare auto-detects your website settings and provides you with two nameservers to replace your existing ones.
- Sign in to your control panel for domain name management and look for the DNS management option. There, replace the existing nameservers with those provided in the previous step.
For the basic setup, that’s about all you need to do.
Replacing the nameservers will have your website included in the Cloudflare service. To get the best out of the CDN, you will likely have to tweak some settings in the CDN dashboard.
In some cases, such as WordPress websites, you can use plugins to integrate CDN options on your WP admin dashboard. This integration will allow you to make further edits without having to sign in to your CDN account.
Best CDN Solutions
The CDN industry was worth an estimated $14.4 billion as of 2020. That mouth-watering sum is competed for by many industry players who have been around for quite some time. Cloudflare handles more than a third of all CDN accounts among the many market solutions – approximately 38%.
Top Features :
- WordPress integration
- Network threat analysis
- HTTP/3 Support
Cloudflare is the best-known CDN service provider in the web hosting space. Its popularity arises from its massive network size and capacity, comprehensive features, and free service tier.
The CDN has famously withstood hundreds of large-scale DDoS attacks. The most notable one peaked at over 942 Gbps in volume and another of more than 754 million packets per second (as recently as June 2020).
Price: Free / From $20 per month.
Top Features :
- Real-time traffic analysis
- Comprehensive statistics and reporting
- SSL flexibility
KeyCDN is another solution that has proven to easily integrate with most web hosting plans. It supports a push or pull configuration and has a smaller but well-spread network of servers covering all major regions.
Despite its ease of use, KeyCDN comes feature-packed. Most are common to many CDN providers, but KeyCDN excels in image processing. A specialized API provides advanced optimization features that boost site performance significantly.
Price: From $0.01 per GB (Price varies by region and volume).
Top Features :
- Based on Akamai infrastructure
- Integrates well with many services
- Good range of support channels
Rackspace isn’t just about CDN services but actually offers a range of network-related solutions covering cloud, application, data, and security. It may be a little limited in terms of features (compared to other CDN providers) but has a staggering strength in Edge nodes.
That said, the service is also easy to set up and comes with an impressive 100% uptime guarantee.
Price: from $0.10 per GB plus $0.0075 per 10,000 requests (Price varies by region and volume).
Top Features :
- Specialized in heavy data streams
- Near 100Tbps capacities
- Real-time Edge processing
Limelight has been around for close to two decades now and has extensive strength in numbers and volume handling. It specializes in delivering content-heavy data streams, including audio and video.
Because of this, Limelight isn’t ideal for all use cases. However, for those with specific needs, the solution offers advantages that you’ll be hard to find elsewhere – for instance, a powerful software-driven content optimization capability.
Price: Custom quote
Top Features :
- Offers free private SSL
- One of the best WAFs around
- Multiple customizable delivery rules
Unlike many other CDNs with a more strategic spread, StackPath has so far kept its focus primarily on Europe and North America.
Its value lies in an uncomplicated pricing structure and ease of use that those newer to CDNs will appreciate. As your experience scales up – the CDN can do so as well, revealing more features and traffic at the higher tiers.
Price: From $10 per month
ScalaHosting and CDN Solutions
ScalaHosting works with any CDN provider you choose, offering you flexibility where it counts. Not everyone is a fan of a particular service, so there’s no need to force everyone to use one brand of CDN.
Using a CDN on ScalaHosting is as simple as what we’ve outlined earlier. If you are new to operating a CDN, you can also see our detailed guide on configuring a CDN.
Despite the availability of a wide range of CDN options to use with ScalaHosting, an excellent place to start with is Cloudflare since it has a free tier. The free plan will give you decent capabilities and allow a smooth transition into the world of content delivery networks.
With an increasing number of global users, the strain on web hosting resources is higher than ever. Even if you aren’t worried about that, using a CDN can significantly increase the performance of your website, especially for users that are not close to your server.
With an increased pressure being put on websites to perform more quickly, using a CDN is an essential element of improving your website speed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a CDN necessary?
No, your website can easily operate without a CDN. However, using one offers multiple benefits, including improvements in performance, reliability, and security. They are also quite simple to use, and if necessary, you can integrate them with your website very quickly.
How does a CDN make websites faster?
CDNs improve website speed by serving cached data from locations close to where requests originate. This capability can significantly reduce latency, which contributes to high page loading time.
How do I know if my CDN is working?
Most CDNs operate by routing requests through their custom nameservers. To check if your CDN is working, perform a whois check on your domain. If the nameservers in the information are the ones assigned by the CDN provider – everything is working fine.