Content Delivery Networks – Not Just for the Big Guys Anymore

A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, is a powerful way to dramatically improve the performance of your website while still keeping costs manageable. Not too long ago CDNs were only practical for really big websites that were getting massive amounts of traffic.

But the technical and price barriers are dropping to the point where even modest websites (like SuccessCREEations.com here) can benefit from a CDN.

What is a CDN?

World Map NetworkWithout getting too technical, most websites all of their web content is hosted on a single web server. Most websites today contain a mix of static and dynamic content.

Static content contains the parts of the site that don’t change very often, if at all. These are things like images, graphics, style sheets, java script, etc. Often these static files eat up the lion’s share of the bandwidth for the website because files like images tend to be much larger than dynamic content. That’s why lots of big images can slow a website down tremendously.

Dynamic content, on the other hand, changes a lot. Usually with database driven platforms such as WordPress this dynamic content is stored in a database and called out as needed by the various template files. The links to the static files are also contained in the database. But the files themselves are stored in folders on the internet.

With traditional web hosting this content is all stored and served to the website visitor from the same server box.

A Content Delivery Network (also called a Content Distribution Network – or just CDN) takes copies of the static content off of the main web host and distributes them to many regional servers around the world. Often these are called “edge” servers. Doing this accomplishes a couple of things.

CDN Advantages

First thing you’ll notice with a CDN is that your website will load more quickly, usually much more quickly. Not only are the bigger files located closer to your visitors, but there is a built in redundancy with the static content located closer to the end users around the world.

This takes the majority of the load of your main server so it can do it’s job even more efficiently, again increasing your site’s load speed.

Another benefit increases the capacity of your website so it can withstand much more traffic before running into load problems.

Often times bandwidth on CDNs is significantly less than with traditional hosting. Usually you just pay for the bandwidth you use and it’s at a much lower rate than with traditional hosting.

That means adding a CDN can be much more cost effective than upgrading your server to handle the load by itself.

Is Speed Important?

Yes. The speed of your website is increasingly important, even with more people having access to higher speed internet connections.

Not only are people growing less patient on the web and are more likely to click away from a slow loading web page than ever before, but Google has started taking load speed into account in their page search result rankings.

Bottom line, having a faster website will bring you more traffic, all else being equal. Using a CDN is good for SEO.

Setup

It is very easy to integrate a CDN with your self hosted WordPress site today. I have a couple sites using CDNs and the WordPress plugin W3 Total Cache makes integration (relatively) easy.

On the WordPress side I just installed the plugin, activated it, and entered in my CDN info into the plugin. It took care of copying all the files over to the CDN automatically for me.

CDN Recommendation

I set up New Media Profit Path with Amazon S3 and their CloudFront CDN a while back. It works well.

But I found it a bit challenging to set up. While their instructions are thorough, they are not simple to understand. And event though their service is relatively inexpensive when compared to traditional web hosting, it turns out Amazon S3 combined with CloudFront is relatively expensive when compared with some other CDN services out there.

Over the weekend I set up my main site here at SuccessCREEations with another CDN service, MaxCDN. So far I am very impressed!

Their service is much easier to set up than Amazon’s. Rather than having 2 separate services (Amazon has S3 for storage & CloudFront for CDN – with them you need both) it’s just one service.

Once I opened my account with them I just created what they call a “pull zone” and followed their crystal clear, and very simple, step-by-step instructions for setting things up. Within about 10 minutes my site was all set and my static content was being served up by their CDN.

And the best part?

MaxCDN is less than 1/3 the cost of what I’m paying Amazon!

So it’s an easier to use service for much less money. That makes MaxCDN the obvious choice in my book.

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