Content delivery networks are the backbone for speedy and reliable online information delivery—from web conferences to streaming video. Here’s why.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) may not be on the hot list of “topics for discussion,” but perhaps they should be. After all, CDNs are the backbone for speedy and reliable information delivery online—from web content and mobile apps, to web conferences and streaming video.
But content delivery isn’t just about meeting consumer demands, as critical as that is. Between remote contractors and telecommuting employees, the New York Times reports that as many as 30 percent of Americans work outside of the office—and that isn’t including people who check in outside of regular work hours. Your team can’t afford to be disconnected or distracted, and few things cause people’s attention to wander faster than fragmented communication.
For your team and your customers, you can’t risk leaving a strong connection to chance. A lot of things can impact content delivery, and not all of them are within your control. However, a solid delivery framework lets you optimize the elements you can manage, like scalable capacity and more efficient data transfers. That’s where a CDN factors in.
How a Content Delivery Network Works
Standard content delivery works on a somewhat first-come-first-served basis: A server hosts content in one location and the information is generally dished out to devices according to proximity. People who are physically closer to the server receive content most quickly; data delivery slows and degrades with distance.
The difference for users may be a matter of seconds, a moment of sound distortion, or just a few pixelated images, but quality and speed are critical to keeping people engaged and staying competitive.
In contrast to the single-server model, a CDN has multiple servers (i.e. nodes) located all over the world. In general, a CDN temporarily stores (i.e. caches) content—like images or multimedia files—on each connected node. When a device sends a request, the CDN uses an algorithm that considers factors like node availability and traffic volume to send data via the best route available between the device and a node.
This network has key strengths that optimize content delivery:
- By funneling data through servers in different locations, a CDN shortens the physical distance between the data and the user; instead of waiting for information to bounce between someone in London and a server in Pittsburg, for example, the request can be directed to a node that’s located in the UK.
- When demand on a particular node is high, a CDN directs people to the next available node. This optimizes the bandwidth available to each user and makes it easier to scale around traffic spikes.
- CDNs also often specialize: While one CDN may handle general web content, another may be optimized for on-demand or live video. So, you can choose a CDN with the technical setup to fit your particular needs.
The Benefits CDNs Can Bring to Your Business
Using content delivery networks is a no-brainer for some businesses, but may not be as valuable for others; it ultimately depends on your priorities and your budget. CDN providers have different strengths, services, and price points, and you need to understand your needs before you can decide how to invest.
Since the main objective of a CDN is to shorten the distance between your users and the nearest server, geography matters: You need to know where your audience is. If your team is relatively concentrated in one place, the benefits of a global network will be minimal. If you’re based in New York and a large number of your clients are in Europe, you won’t want all your traffic trying to funnel through one local server.
Using a specialized CDN to handle your audiovisual communication can make interaction smoother and more reliable; these CDNs are tailored to maintain quality and minimize any loss that can happen through compression, transfer, and decompression. They’re also optimized to handle different streaming and real-time protocols, so they can deliver different formats to different devices with as little flicker as possible.
CDNs can also bring stability and scalability to high-traffic websites. When you only have one server available, and that server is busy, extra requests are left hanging—and many people won’t wait around or try again. If your site is hosted across a CDN, however, these extra requests can be directed to the next available server. This may not guarantee 100 percent deliverability, but it’s as close as you’re going to get.
Considering these benefits, a CDN will have the most impact for companies who:
Offer “mission critical” services that need to always be available:
- Reach a global audience.
- Feature dynamic content.
- Deliver video, webcasting, real-time streaming, or other multimedia on demand.
- Use large images or media files.
- Experience heavy or variable traffic volume.
- Offer e-commerce.
It’s also possible to create a CDN that’s private and available only within your organization.
Businesses need to deliver more content more effectively than ever to both staff and customers. A CDN can help you provide an experience that’s consistent, efficient, and scalable.
Do you think CDN is becoming a necessity for companies seeking strong digital presence?