High-quality content and smooth performance are two essential user expectations you are bound to meet, no matter what the purpose of your website is. But the cost of user satisfaction is still a very urgent issue. Heavy, high-speed data transfer to and from a website may cost a pretty penny. The good news is you can cut down on these costs by optimizing content delivery, and here’s how.
What Are Website Operating Costs?
The basic principle of any website’s operation is data exchange. Web hosting services charge for the data transferred to or from the origin server. This is often called “bandwidth costs.” Even though “bandwidth” means the maximum amount of data that can pass through a point on a network over time, in this context, it means general data transfer.
When counting up website operating costs, a hosting provider looks at a certain amount of data per period of time (typically per month). The two main ways to charge for data transfer are the data coming in (or ingress) and the data going out (or egress). The one that is higher wins.
How Content Delivery Makes a Difference
A content delivery network (or CDN) is a way to make data transfer less intense, yet more effective. While the traditional website model uses a single server for data storage, a CDN uses a whole system of powerful servers all over the world. Sometimes they are called nodes or edge servers, but whatever you call them, their main task is to store copies of the files from a website, providing stable, secure, and fast performance.
If a user goes to a website without a CDN, the content has to travel all the way from the origin server. Every new user generates new HTTP requests, intensifying data transfer and increasing operating costs. But if we add a CDN to this equation, most of the website’s content will be cached in the network, and data exchange with the origin server decreases, along with bandwidth costs. This is how exactly a CDN makes it happen.
1. A CDN speeds up a website
A distribution network can literally shorten the distance between content and user by processing each request with the closest node. Along with the distance, it cuts down on the number of steps and relays. All this increases the speed significantly, especially when it comes to image files. Though your users expect to see high-quality pictures on the page instantly, it may take a significant amount of time to load them. But a CDN can do it much quicker, using the closest server and optimizing images at the same time.
2. A СDN prevents shutdowns
Using a single server, you run the risks of breakdown due to physical damage or software malfunction. For example, if you run an online shop with lots of product photos, chances are that at least one of them will be viewed by millions of users. (Case in point: remember that white and gold (No, blue and black!) dress?) This can easily overload the server and take the site offline.
But a CDN won’t let that happen since it can automatically redirect requests from an unavailable node to the next closest one to the user. As a result, everything works just fine even if the demand is high.
3. A CDN provides security
According to recent statistics, cyberattacks cost small and medium businesses more than $2.2 million a year. So as long as you deal with any confidential or sensitive data, you have to take care of cyber defense. While it’s tricky to protect a single server from massive denial-of-service attacks or data breaches, the structure of a CDN is more secure due to its decentralized nature.
Moreover, some CDNs are capable of analyzing and absorbing unusual traffic spikes. As long as the request is recognized as acceptable and coming from, for instance, marketing promotions, it will be served. Otherwise, it can be identified as inappropriate and sent into a black hole, populated by specialized scrubbing nodes. Therefore, the CDN can protect the website from a DDoS attack before any damage is done.
4. A CDN supports conversion
Appealing, high-resolution images make users stay on a website longer. But this works only if this content is quick enough to appear on their screen. Google data shows that, as page time load goes up from 1 to 5 seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 90%, pulling the conversion down. Being able to load razor-sharp images in a moment, a CDN improves customer experience and makes clients more likely to make a purchase.
Some CDN systems offer wider capabilities for image management to boost web performance and conversion. Image CDNs, like the one by Uploadcare, are best suited for image optimization and adaptive delivery. This might be valuable in retail, for example, where you have to support the smooth web performance of a big, highly interactive site used by many people with various devices.
5. A CDN facilitates website growth
When the site outgrows the current setup, its owners face new challenges. Changing the setup in the traditional web model can be time consuming, making it difficult to react quickly. But CDN providers can simply “plug in” to an extra node at a small cost without any delay.
How to Make CDN Work
Even though setting up a CDN might sound like a difficult task, CDNs are quite easy to implement for most websites. First of all, you need to tell the CDN which files it needs to mirror, and then you configure your site to send CDN requests to those files.
Popular CMSs like WordPress, Drupal, etc. have special plugins to link the site to a CDN provider. Other ways may require modifying DNS records and changing the name servers of your domain.
Does a CDN Bring Profit?
In most cases, CDNs are third-party paid services, and their costs range from expensive, high-end setups for big and complex websites to less complicated and cheaper solutions suited for smaller sites. Among the factors contributing to CDN costs are bandwidth, region reach, and security. At the end of the day, the pricing turns out to be quite flexible and accessible for various budgets. And compared to traditional website maintenance, a CDN can significantly cut down on the costs, improving the user experience at the same time.
Costs and risk management are crucial for any field, including computing and business. The main question for both developers and website owners is how to cut down on both while keeping up with high user expectations. A content delivery network appears to be a balanced and flexible answer to that question.