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This post was sponsored by SAP but the actual contents and opinions are the sole views of MakeUseOf.com

CDNs make the Internet fast and websites affordable even when you scale to millions of users. Firstly, bandwidth costs money; those of us on limited contracts know that all too well. Not only do you as an Internet ‘consumer’ need to pay for your bandwidth, but the websites you visit also have to pay for their bandwidth.

More importantly though, a slow website will cost you dearly. Studies show that 40% of consumers abandon an online shopping site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

What Is a CDN?

A CDN, or Content Delivery Network is a series of high performance file servers situated around the world that are tweaked for optimal delivery of high bandwidth static resources. They solve three problems for modern websites – speed, bandwidth costs, and storage concerns.

Speed

When you visit a smaller website, the majority of files needed to load the page are static – CSS, images and Javascript that change infrequently. The actual HTML code may be generated from a database (such as a blog where the front page is updated with every new post), but HTML tends to be quite small and hence loads quickly. The images and scripts however can be huge – a couple of megabytes for the typical blog wouldn’t be unusual. It’s here that smaller sites will slow down, and sometimes you can actually see the images as they load – line by line.

These static resources have become a significant bottleneck in site performance. Website servers simply aren’t optimized to send large amounts of data to hundreds of users situated halfway across the globe, so it’s at this point that a CDN can save the day. CDN’s achieve a higher speed by being dedicated to the task of pushing out masses of data at extreme speeds – they don’t host websites, they just host the large files needed for the site; they don’t have a database, and they don’t need to dynamically generate coded pages – they just push out data. And they’re extremely good at it.

Partly this is due to hardware optimizations and higher speed datapipes, but they also gain a speed advantage by being physically closer to the user’s location, sometimes even on a server belonging to your own ISP. If you live in Europe, the site you’re browsing may be hosted in America, but with a CDN running, the images will be loaded from a local European server much closer to you (just like here on MakeUseOf).

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If you think the speed benefits would be minimal, I recently added a CDN to one of my own sites that’s fairly image heavy with screenshots; Pingdom reported the load time more than halved from 3 seconds to less than 1.5 seconds. That might not sound like much, but it equates to about 10% less visitors who will abandon the site due to slow load frustrations. Every second you shave off counts toward your bottom line.

Bandwidth & Storage Costs

Website hosting is cost-effective if you stick within the specified bandwidth limits; it’s when you go over these that the costs begin to rocket. Again, CDNs can really help out; About a third of the cost compared to your hosting provider would be typical.

However, not only do you need to consider data transfer costs, but the cost of actually storing that data too. If your company holds a huge number of PDF files or multimedia content, those can really use up your limited hosting space, pushing you into a higher-tiered hosting plan that you otherwise don’t need. Whether they’re frequently used or simply need to be kept online just in case, a CDN makes storage cost-effective by only paying reasonable fees for what you need and use.

Yes, Please…

A faster loading website that costs less? That’s really difficult to say no to, I think.

The fact is that MakeUseOf simply wouldn’t load without the help of a CDN. If your website or business is paying the high price of bandwidth over-usage or the user experience is being ruined by slow loading static resources and losing you valuable custom, it’s time you considered a CDN too.

Have you considered a CDN? If you’re hesitant, let us know what’s stopping you. Or maybe you have a CDN success story of how it improved your site? We’d love to hear from you.

Image sources: User abandonment – Kissmetrics; Superhighway and Hard drive platter from Shutterstock

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  1. Scott
    June 28, 2012 at 7:24 am

    My hosting has unlimited bandwidth as well, but adding a cache plugin and a CDN has helped speed up the site considerably. If you don't know, Cloudflare.com offers a FREE CDN service that is great.

    • James Bruce
      June 29, 2012 at 8:00 am

      Good tip Scott; though cloudflare isn't *exactly* a CDN, and yet it's also so much more.

      I should note that I was running cloudflare on my site before, which got the load time down to 3 seconds. Now I've added in a "proper" CDN for the images and JS and such, and it's down to 1.5 seconds. This is with Cloudflare running *also*. Combining both is the best, I think.

  2. Thegreatvinay
    June 28, 2012 at 4:44 am

    i am having a unlimited storage plan and bandwidth. but i need CDN to improve my site speed. But i wasn't aware of CDN setup and other technical thinngs. i came to know CDN only when my w3 cache plugin shows me an error. please say me about some CDN providers and about their prices

    • muotechguy
      June 28, 2012 at 9:00 am

      Hi vinay; I've been unable to find a complete comparison for every CDN out there, so I can only speak from experience; Amazon s3, and MaxCDN. Amazon s3 is the cheapest, but not as fast. It also needs some special setup in w3tc, as I dont beleive it supports "pull" upload method - you have to actually export you media set to the servers. MaxCDN is waht I personally use, and what we use here at MakeUseOf; it costs $40 for your first TB of transfer, and fully supports origin pull so your media is automatically grabbed when needed; moreover, it's screamingly fast.