There’s a mixed bag of reviews out there from people who have used or are using CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to deliver content to users from different servers based on location. Some say this is the best solution to provide fast loading speeds (especially for mobile device users) whereas others are concerned about the complexity of deploying content in this way, not to mention increased running costs versus delivering site content from just one server worldwide.
What is a CDN?
A CDN basically consists of a group of locations around the world that push your website content out based on the geographical location of the user(s) accessing the site at any given time. For example, a website user in London would be served the website content (text, images and media) from the CDN server closest to or in London at that time, thus ensuring they get the website loaded to their device as quickly as possible, rather than all users being served the website content from one location irrespective of location. Doing things this way means that no matter where your visitors are in the world, the content will be delivered to them from the nearest location of the CDN service you are using. Not using a CDN means that your website will be hosted in one location at all times and the further away a user is, the slower the website will download for them!
CDN services are particularly good for international websites, as it means you don’t have to worry about loading speeds worldwide or trying to find the optimum location to host your site to please everyone. Much as the delay in a UK user loading a US based site is typically only seconds, a 2014 report from LoadStorm showed that 1 in 4 people will abandon a website if it takes more than 4 seconds to load, and 74% of mobile users will leave if they have to wait over 5 seconds for a website to load on their device. We’re an impatient bunch and the online marketplace is a fickle place – the same report also showed that if you do manage to keep user attention long enough for your site to load, you still only have 5 seconds to engage their interest before they exit and go elsewhere, so you have to make sure you’re on the ball on matter where your target market is!
Disadvantages of a CDN
All of this makes using a CDN sound like an obvious choice, but there are some disadvantages you have to take into account and decide whether these outweigh the benefits.
- Expense. There are some “free” CDN services out there but if you want good and reliable service then you should expect to pay for it. You also have to factor in the cost of deploying such a strategy, and the back up support you’ll need if things go pear shaped – whilst CDNs tend to have a good reliability rate, they aren’t infallible and if things go wrong and your website is offline, you’ll be losing 100% of users, not just the impatient ones! There are ways of ensuring a backup is always available should this happen, but again generates an extra cost and resource to take care of.
- Security. Something all website owners need to be mindful of, especially in these days of increased cyber threats, hackers and Google’s increasing preference for sites that run on HTTPS servers (especially ecommerce websites). If you do require HTTPS, your CDN options will also be more limited, and could be more expensive because of that reason! Remember – al files stored on a CDN are copied to distributing servers, so you also need to be fairly secure in the CDN’s security policies!
- Reliability. You have to be sure the service you’re paying for is reliable and robust enough to serve your website properly. Also, is it reputable enough to not be blocked by different countries for their own political reasons?
- Geo location of customers. if you choose to use a CDN you need to know first where your primary target market is. If you have an international website then this isn’t really a concern, but if you’re targeting just one country and the primary users are in a big city – such as Birmingham, for example, you might be better choosing a dedicated hosting service in Birmingham as using a CDN could mean the nearest location is actually further away and thus your website will load slower for those users.
- Local copies. No local copies will be made of your pages and any changes you make, which means you’ll always need an internet connection to make changes to the site and preview them before sending live. Not a big deal for some, but depending on your website and methods for updating it, this could be a real headache!