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Beyond Web Hosting: The Content Delivery Network

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by

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Have you ever wondered how some of those more popular web sites manage to deliver their content to you so quickly and so reliably – no matter where the company is located and no matter where you happen to be connected? In many cases, the answer is not one gigantic server with huge Internet bandwidth. It’s more likely to be the use of a content delivery network (CDN). If your own web presence is starting to generate serious interest and traffic, especially from different parts of the world, it may be a solution that makes sense for you in order to supply your content to a growing number of fans or customers.


Like Web Hosting but Multiplied Up

A CDN works in a similar way to a single web hosting installation, but replicates your website data on multiple servers. These servers are distributed geographically to increase proximity with visitors to your website. Some CDNs focus on certain regions. Others claim worldwide coverage – the biggest CDNs can have thousands of servers, all automatically configured to serve the end-users that are the physically closest to them. Smaller distances mean fewer hops, less latency and faster overall transmission. Higher numbers of servers mean that end-users are less likely to see delays when trying to access a very popular site, because the load is shared out between the replicating hosts.


What do CDNs Do Best?

CDNs can work well with static web content, including text and images. However, their effect is often most noticeable in video transmission. When videos are streamed from a local CDN server to a user, latency can be minimized and good video replay quality can be achieved, with the stop/start or jitter that occurs when large numbers of remote users all access the same central server. Other benefits include resilience of content delivery in case part of the Internet experiences problems, and robustness against attacks such as denial of service. For example, if you think you’d like to be the new YouTube or Vimeo on the net, a CDN could be a useful or even essential part of your plan.


Smart Technology

Some CDNs are smarter still. Not only do they recognize which users should be served from which local node when they type in the domain name of the website in question, but they also intelligently compress and pre-load data. The compression techniques can be high-performance yet without loss (important for transferring many large data files). The pre-loading relies on a statistical analysis of which website content is the most popular or most frequently downloaded in a given sequence. The CDN node will send the next webpages in the sequence at the same time as the first webpage requested by the user. If the user then navigates to the next page in the sequence (which has a good probability of happening), the content is already present on the user’s computer and ‘flashes up’ immediately.


When Would You Start Using a CDN?

If you currently attract so many users to your site that performance and/or network bandwidth are becoming bottlenecks, CDNs may be worth investigating. They may be a less expensive yet more effective option compared to trying to beef up your central web hosting. A ‘CDN aggregator’ company may be able to help by modeling your traffic and your requirements, and identifying the best deal among the CDNs available. Such aggregators may even offer a dynamic ‘mix and match’ service, continually selecting the most favorable CDN for your requirements. This often assumes of course that you accept to sign up with the aggregator as the intermediary for providing this service.



Author Bio: Natalie Lehrer is a senior contributor for CloudWedge. In her spare time, Natalie enjoys exploring all things cloud and is a music enthusiast. Follow Natalie’s daily posts on Twitter: @Cloudwedge, or on Facebook.


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