Why Use a Content Delivery Network?

Posted: Thursday September 1st

Most business website owners would agree that fast delivery of their website content to visitors’ screens is very important. Hence, they employ various tips and tricks to speed up their web page downloads. Nowadays, much static website content, for example, images, is downloaded from a different domain than the main website.

The reason for this is that a browser can only open a limited amount of connections per URL. When a browser is downloading your website, and the amount of data is very large, delays will be caused by this large amount of information trying to squeeze through the limited connections. By creating a subdomain on your website, for example, http://images.yourdomain.com/, and storing all your website’s images there you can increase the downloading speed of the web pages. Because the browser is now downloading from two URLs, there are more connections available. There is, however, an alternative that optimizes this process even further. That alternative is a content delivery network (CDN).

Benefits and Functionality

The main benefit of using a CDN is that your content is not only hosted on a separate (sub)domain, the content is also served faster, no matter what the location of your website visitor is. For example, when your server is physically located in your country or near your location, and your website visitor is on the other side of the world, it would take this visitor’s browser longer to download the web pages, than let’s say a visitor in your own country. This delay is caused by the large number of “hops” that are needed to deliver the content to the location. In other words, the data is routed through a large number of devices on the network before it finally arrives at its destination. A CDN, on the other hand, duplicates your content and makes it available to multiple datacentre locations, thus ensuring a faster delivery of data.

Amazon Cloudfront and S3 for Small Business

CDNs are not exclusive to large companies. There are also solutions suited to the needs and budgets of smaller businesses. One of the best-known of these solutions is Amazon Cloudfront. The Cloudfront based CDN solution is easy to implement, using two of Amazon’s services. To start you will need an Amazon AWS (Amazon web services) account. Then you can link the two services Amazon Cloudfront and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) to this account. The S3 service handles the hosting of your content, and the Cloudfront service ensures fast delivery of content to different locations.

How To Set Up Amazon Cloudfront and S3

After signing up for these services, you can start right away by adding static content for your website to a S3 “bucket”. When this is done, all you have to do is to link this bucket to Amazon Cloudfront, using the Cloudfront web interface. Simply indicate which bucket you wish to link to a new Cloudfront container. The new container will need a CNAME in order for the content to be available through a subdomain of your website, for example, http://cdn.yourdomain.com/. The CNAME is a record that must be submitted to the DNS (domain name system) database, so that this new domain can be recognized as an alias of your main domain and can be linked to the IP address of your main website. Finally, make sure that the files in the S3 bucket are available publicly by setting the read rights to “other”, instead of “user only”. Now your content is ready to be served from a subdomain on your website.

The most important feature of any IT infrastructure is performance. If your web pages take too long to download, your website visitors will leave, transactions will be canceled, and the whole user-experience will be unsatisfactory. Additionally, a slow loading speed may affect your page ranking in Google, because Google keeps track of web page download speeds and penalizes slow sites. However, by using a content delivery network you can offer a fast service to your website visitors that is not dependent on location or time of visit.

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