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What Is a CDN and Why Do I Need One?

CDN stands for content delivery network and refers to a group of servers around the world that have copies of your website securely stored on them. There are several benefits to using a CDN, including increased security, reliability, and performance for your website.

We hate to get all technical on you, but it’s impossible to appreciate the value of a CDN if you don’t understand how it works. So please, hear us out.

The first thing you should know is that the primary purpose of a CDN is to deliver content to internet users as quickly as possible. To do this, the servers in a network store (or cache) webpage content and then send that information to any user who visits the page.

Basically, it works like this:

As an internet user tries to visit your website, their browser sends a request to the nearest server within your CDN. The server then downloads the relevant code, text, images, etc., and displays this content in the user’s browser. The further away a server is, the longer it takes for the page to load.

Still confused? Don’t worry. Below, we’ve provided the answers to some of the most common questions we hear about this topic.

Does the User Have to Pick Which Server Loads the Content?

Good question! Thankfully, no, the internet user is not responsible for picking the best server for their location. Instead, the CDN does all the heavy lifting by automatically choosing the best server for the job. This is done through “anycast” routing, which means that when a user makes a request, it is routed to the nearest server. Thanks to your CDN, the entire process happens almost instantaneously.

What Are the Other Benefits of a CDN?

Faster load times isn’t the only perk of using a CDN. These networks also achieve the following:

  • Improving website security through the use of a firewall that detects and blocks suspicious traffic.
  • Reducing bandwidth costs by cutting back on the amount of data that needs to be transferred between users and servers.
  • Increasing website uptime through the use of “offline mode.” (Meaning that if your server crashes and causes your website to go offline, the CDN will display a stored version of the site until things get back up and running.)

If you are looking to improve the functionality and performance of your website, then a CDN is definitely something to consider. Who among us would say no to a faster running, safer, and more affordable website?

With a CDN less data needs to be transferred between the user and your server.

Is a CDN Really Worth the Effort?

If you are still on the fence about a CDN, consider this example (there’s some light math, but stick with us):

Let’s say your website gets around 1,000 visitors a day and each visitor views an average of 20 pages. That would require your server to send 20,000 pieces of content every day. If each piece of content is 100KB, that’s a total of 2,000MB (or two gigabytes) of data transferred every day. That means your server has to process 2 GB of data every day.

That’s a good chunk of data that could cost you a pretty penny—especially if your web host charges you for bandwidth.

Now, let’s say you add a CDN to your website. The CDN stores copies of your content on its servers worldwide so that when a user visits your website, the browser can load your site’s content from the nearest server. Less data needs to be transferred between the user and your server. And since the CDN server is closer to the user, your site will load faster.

In our example, let’s say that the CDN can reduce the amount of transferred data by 50%. That means you would only need to transfer 1,000MB (or one gigabyte) of data every day. This can save you a lot of money on bandwidth costs, and it can also make your website load faster for users.

The bottom line is that if page load speed is important to you, you need a CDN.

How Do I Get a CDN?

There are many CDN providers out there. Some of the more popular ones include CloudFlare, MaxCDN, and Amazon CloudFront. Each provider has its own pricing plans and features, but we’ve found that CloudFlare is the easiest to set up––plus, they have a free tier that is surprisingly generous.

How Do I Set Up a CDN Through CloudFlare?

Thankfully, CloudFlare is pretty easy to use. Just sign up for an account and add your website. CloudFlare will then scan your site and automatically configure the CDN for you. The only ‘technical’ thing you’ll need to do is update the name records for your domain.

Typically, this means changing the nameservers of your domain so that they point to the CDN. This sounds confusing, but when someone types in a domain (example: the browser connects to the domain’s host and then receives instructions as to where the website’s files are stored. Then, the connection is sent to that server.

With a CDN, the browser connects to the domain and then to the CDN before going to the server. So you need to tell the domain to send users to the CDN first.

It sounds scarier than it actually is. But if you need any help, know that our tech nerds are always here for you.

In Summary

Now you can brag to all your friends that you know what a CDN is! (They may not be impressed, but we are proud of you nonetheless.)

As you use a CDN to store copies of your website’s pages, you’ll find yourself saving money and increasing your loading speed. Your clients will notice a difference . . . and so will your wallet. And we can’t wait to hear all about it!

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