Today’s content-heavy internet, combined with increasingly ubiquitous broadband connectivity around the world, means that more people than ever before are expecting the same internet-based services all around the world. With so many businesses in today’s landscape operating across international borders, online presence needs to service a considerable customer base, and do so reliably, no matter where in the world they may be.
Though Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are essential for some, they might not be the solution for every business. In this blog, we’ll look at what to be aware of when choosing a Content Delivery Network, and some best practices to bear in mind for CDN management.
Before considering a CDN, know who your customers are.
Content Delivery Networks work by caching the static content from a given website to a network of CDN servers located around the world. When a user requests your website from Brazil, for example, the request is sent to the Content Delivery Network, which provides static content from the geographically-closest Point of Presence (POP) to the user, and then polls the server for any updated content. As such, the greatest strength of a Content Delivery Network is that it reduces the latency experienced by end-users, and facilitates shorter loading times and a smoother browsing experience as a result.
Knowing where the bulk of your customer base exists, how and when they interact with your site, and the kinds of content they request most frequently, will go a long way towards determining whether or not you should be considering a CDN, and which one to opt for, should you decide to invest in one.
Keep an eye on your cache-hit percentages at all times.
When a user requests content that hasn’t yet been cached on local servers, the CDN will request the object from the origin server and save a cached copy. Though this makes future retrievals faster, it results in slower content delivery for the initial request. Cache-misses are inevitable to some degree, but keeping them to a minimum is essential. A good cache-hit ratio of over 95% is generally considered good, while 99% or higher is considered excellent. If you’re seeing cache-hit ratios of less than 80%, your Content Delivery Network is in dire need of optimisation and should be investigated immediately.
Force compression to further improve delivery times.
Most CDNs do not force compression by default, but it’s worth asking your CDN to force compression on any non-compressed files requested from the origin server. According to a post on Google Developers, compressing files on a CDN results in a 414% improvement in Facebook’s initial load time on a broadband connection. Some users might not be able to access compressed files depending on the browser they’re using, their antivirus software, proxy etc. but uncompressed files will be sent to users if compression is not supported.
Be aware that a CDN doesn’t solve all your problems.
While Content Delivery Networks do provide auxiliary benefits like reducing bandwidth usage and improving global availability, their principal benefit is reducing latency and improving loading times. These are all beneficial for any website, but they’re by no means all-encompassing solutions. In Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and eCommerce, two of the most significant performance pain points are server-side processing and third-party content, neither of which can be solved by a Content Delivery Network. For the best results, customers often augment their CDN solution with Front End Optimisation (FEO) and Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs), as well as in-house engineering.
Managing a Content Delivery Network can be a complex task, but with the right tools at your disposal and a clear idea of where you’re going, you’ll see a real, quantifiable difference. To find out more about how to get the most out of your Network Management System, download a free copy of our newly-updated Network Manager’s Guide to a Stable and Highly Available Network.