• Technology

Why a CDN Doesn't Solve All Your Performance Needs

  • Jason Chow
  • 6 min read
Why a CDN Doesn't Solve All Your Performance Needs

Intro

Your business would flourish in the past when you had a reasonably priced product that was good that not many sold. Things are different now. I am not saying that product quality and competitive pricing are no longer crucial. I am saying that because of rapid technological advancements, many are on board the internet. Hence, the online business space has become overly crowded, and competition has become tight.

Other factors come into play; the online user experience is one of them. Many now sell similar products with competitive pricing. What sets you apart from the competitors? Two words - user experience.

There are many aspects of user experience that you have to consider. On top of your list are speed and performance. You want to give a positive and pleasant user experience. As such, you shop around for the top-notch web hosting solution to help you with this. Most web hosts offer Content Delivery Networks (CDN) to ensure quality speeds across the globe.

However, you may notice that even with CDN deployment, you may still encounter sluggish performances. A CDN does help with speeding up connections, but it is not the all in all magical silver bullet that solves ALL performance issues.

CDN in a Nutshell

A CDN helps deliver content fast to your users. A CDN helps deliver content fast to your users. (Source: Cloudflare)

A CDN is typically a network of geographically distributed servers that work together to speed up the delivery of internet content by bringing the data closer to where users are. These distributed servers act as proxy servers connected to the original server. Hence, instead of everyone accessing that one original server directly, these proxy servers deliver the content efficiently to users based on their locations.

Think of a CDN as a network of servers at different exchange points between various networks. The availability of these high-speed and intricately interconnected locations helps extend the global availability of a website, reduce transit times, and resolve latency issues.

CDNs cache data, such as web pages, images, and videos, in these proxy servers near you. If you were to get content from the original server at all times, the wait would be too long. However, since the content is already cached at a nearby server, getting from this server significantly cuts down the waiting period.

Benefits

Most use CDNs to improve website loading speeds. It is faster to obtain the content from a nearby CDN server. Hence, users enjoy speedy websites. The bounce rate drops, and conversion rates increase. A CDN can manage large amounts of traffic and hardware failure due to its distributed nature.

With other optimizations, CDNs can help reduce the data the original server handles. Hence, bandwidth consumption by the hosting server drops, which helps reduce web hosting costs. A CDN can help defend against Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks when properly configured.

Why a CDN Doesn't Solve All Your Performance Needs - 5 Areas

It is without a doubt that including a CDN in your infrastructure enhances speed, performance, and reliability. However, using a CDN alone may not suffice. Other areas must be optimized to provide you with a consistent top-performing website.

Here are some of these other areas:

1. Server Resources

The web server that hosts your website is the original server. Your CDN communicates regularly with your web server to ensure it caches the latest static data to serve your users. Aside from handling your CDN, your web server also handles dynamic content, which your CDN service may not.

Since websites nowadays consist of static and dynamic content (generated in real-time), a user typically interacts with your CDN and your original server. If your web server does not have enough resources, there's only so much a CDN can do to help.

Hence, ensure your web server is well-equipped with enough hard drive storage, CPU, and memory. Ensure you take into consideration peak demands. Your computing resources must cater to web requests effortlessly at ALL times. Hence, check your web server's speeds often and be on your toes.

2. Network Resources

How fast a CDN can communicate and pull data from your web server depends on several factors. One of them is your network resources which manage the connectivity between your CDN and web server. Lack of network resources (low bandwidth) slows down data transfer, which is detrimental to the ultimate performance of your website.

Today, many leverage multimedia solutions to enhance their offerings to the masses. Hence, they use a lot of video streaming and large visuals. Your bandwidth handles the transference of such heavy content in the network. No matter how capable your CDN is, it is useless to you once your limited bandwidth becomes a bottleneck.

Hence, ensure you always have adequate bandwidth to service large file transfers, even during peak times. Your networking resources are vital to delivering the expected performance among your web server, CDN, and audience.

3. Your Web Host

Ranktracker uses Cloudflare as their CDN Ranktracker uses Cloudflare as their CDN. (Source: WHSR Tool)

Your web host decides the survival of your business; I cannot emphasize this enough. Closely related to the sections above, your web host determines the resources you get. However, there are other areas where your web host influences your website's performance. Security is one of them. If your web host's security policies are loose and dubious, it is a matter of time before your website is hacked.

Once hacked, your website slows down or, worse, becomes inaccessible. At this point, your CDN is rendered useless. No matter how much your CDN tries to communicate with your web server, it can't. Your performance drops to zero. Your customers will go elsewhere. Hence, choose a reliable and trusted web host. Go for one with an uptime guarantee (anything less than 99.9% is no good).

Look into their security policies. Ensure they are tight and all necessary best security practices are carried out (firewalls, anti-malware software, encryption, and others). Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protection must be included. Backups are done daily at a minimum. A highly secured fortress makes for a seamless operation with no disruptions. And this is the goal of every website owner.

4. Third-Party Applications/Tools

Each website has its requirements and objectives. Whatever it is, each website requires a set of applications and software components to function and deliver to the audience as intended. These software components may be developed in-house or outsourced. Whatever it is, monitor these dependencies on such components as they influence your website's overall performance.

Your CDN may rely on these components to function and deliver as expected to your audience. Your CDN cannot function as expected if any one of these components fails to load or function inaccurately. Your website's performance drops.

Hence, you should test these software components in a simulated environment before going live in the production environment. Then, regularly monitor and manage them to ensure they are always in tip-top condition to deliver the expected performance to your audience at all times.

5. Cache Settings

Cache-control headers dictate how the cache is done Cache-control headers dictate how the cache is done. (Source: Cloudflare)

Various cache configurations can affect your CDN's overall performance. For example, cache control. It is a browser caching function that saves resources in the cache. When a user reaccesses the website, the cache control (an HTTP header) contains the rules that dictate if the browser sends a service request to the server or if data comes from the local cache.

Developers have the flexibility to control browser caching, which means they can control how each resource is cached. Also, developers can set the rules for third-party services, including CDNs. As such, optimize these HTTP headers well to cache content efficiently and leverage your CDN usage for optimum performance.

However, some may have incompatible cache configurations, which impact the overall performance badly. As such, configuring, load testing, and tweaking is necessary to reach that optimum cache configuration with your CDN to boost and sustain high performance.

6. Visuals

If your website relies on visuals, you have to consider their sizes. You can have sufficient computing and networking resources, but they can be insufficient if you keep adding loads of critically heavy file sizes on your website. When that happens, your CDN can only do so much. Ultimately, your website's performance suffers. Hence, don't overburden your network of resources and CDN unnecessarily.

There are ways you can optimize your visuals. You can consider compressing them into smaller sizes without compromising on their quality. Or use responsive images that adapt to screen sizes. These simple steps help heaps to reduce the load and bandwidth. Processing speeds are then higher, and your audience accesses your website faster.

A CDN Ultimately Pays Off

A CDN undoubtedly is a proven way to enhance stability, reduce web page loading time, and increase the performance of your website. Hence, investing in a CDN is a no-brainer, especially when targeting global users. However, CDNs alone aren't sufficient to help your website perform tip-top at all times.

Other factors such as computing resources, networking resources, third-party software, cache control settings, and images determine your final performance. Consider all these elements when building your website. Ultimately, you want to afford a positive user experience to your audience at all times.

Jason Chow

Jason Chow

Jason has been a Site Manager for more than eight years and has spent most of his time working with Internet Marketing and Outreaching. He also loves to explore new ways to grow online.

Link: WebRevenue

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