Will a Content Delivery Network (CDN) Speed up Your Website?

Adam Grobelny November 14, 2014

Website owners never want to hear their users or customers say “Your website is just too slow.”  Worse yet, most users and customers never will not report this, but rather simply stop using the website, leaving the site owner wondering what happened to his or her traffic.

If this website owner started searching online for “ways to speed up my website,” he or she will eventually come across an article or more likely an advertisement that says that Content Delivery Networks (CDN’s) are the way to make your website run faster. CDN’s can increase speed by reducing load times. They are very useful in many scenarios, but they are not a magic bullet for increasing speed.

In this post, Chris Camac, Software Developer at Miles Technologies, discusses the value a CDN can provide if utilized under the proper circumstances.


Will a CDN help your website? 

First let’s understand what a CDN actually is and what it does.  A CDN is a network of servers located across a region, country or even the entire world depending on the CDN you are using.  The CDN can be hosted by you, but most of the time it is third party service that you are paying for.  All of your static images and other files where the content is rarely changed would be handed over to the CDN, and they would place the files on their network.  Your website would then reference the files by making a call to the CDN rather than serving up the files on its own.  This can significantly decrease the latency in serving up the files based on location.


Example:  If your browser is in New York and your file server is in California, then a round trip will take longer than if both were located in New York, simply based on the distance alone.  But with a CDN, most of the files your browser needs would be routed to the closest server in the CDN’s network.  And voila, your latency is reduced.

That seems like it’s a really good idea, so what’s the catch?  CDN’s are not free, and they have their own minimal amount of overhead.  If you know for sure that all of your users are located in the same city as your servers (say in the case of an internal website), than adding a CDN is sure to increase your latency rather than reducing it.  Plus there is a small amount of increased development and maintenance time when using a CDN.  When considering a CDN, it is best to not just run out and get one, but rather to perform some analysis first to make sure it is the right fit for your website needs.

Do you know where your users are located? There are plenty of ways to get metrics on the location of individuals accessing your website.  Make sure that considering a CDN makes sense based on those metrics.  When for companies based in the US, a good rule of thumb is to split the country up into quadrants (Northeast, Southeast, etc.).  The more quadrants you find concentrations of your users in, the more it makes sense to look into a CDN.  Also, let’s not forget the not-so-common-sense approach.  If we are talking about a business that is targeting serving the Northeast in the US, does it matter how long it takes for someone in Sweden to load your website?

Let’s say you have done the analysis and found that your users that are in the Northeast are not having the same experience as your users in the Northwest.  That “different experience” means an average of around 20% slower load speeds on every page for whichever quadrant does not share the quadrant with your server.  So if you want those other users to keep being users, you may want to take a closer look at a CDN.

Thoughts or burning questions about CDN or speeding up your website?  Hit us up in the comments section.

Interested in learning more about other custom solutions that can help improve performance for your business? Contact us today and get a consultation with a specialist.

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