A CDN, or content delivery network, is, in layman’s terms, a collection of servers that are distributed across the globe. These servers communicate and work with each other to deliver content to people in the most efficient, speedy way possible.
For example, say you’re living in Los Angeles. You’ve got a great looking website that’s loved by people all over the world. As most things online are, you’ve got an international website. People in Los Angeles can visit it the same way that people in New Zealand can visit it.
Consider this, though: if your website and its content were hosted on a single server that was more local to you, how long do you think it’ll take your website and its many images to load for that person in New Zealand? I can tell you this for sure, it’s not going to be as fast as it’ll load for you. Not by a long shot.
For that New Zealander, you could expect your site to load after many, many seconds. Depending on their connection, who knows how bad it could be. The physical distance between you and this fictitious New Zealander becomes a real problem.
What a CDN does is distribute your website’s resources across many servers around the planet. Instead of this computer in New Zealand being forced to communicate across thousands of miles of ocean, with a CDN it only needs to communicate with servers in, say, Australia.
That shorter communication distance can help improve latency and loading speeds in a dramatic fashion. It can be a real win for your website.
However, that doesn’t mean a CDN isn’t without its drawbacks. Let’s talk about the benefits and drawbacks of using a CDN.
The pros of using a CDN
- With a CDN, your website’s visitors should see improved loading speeds on your website. Seconds count online. You don’t want to be the website that takes more than a few of them to load up.
- You’ll reduce the bandwidth needed to deliver your content to people around the world if your content doesn’t need to travel as far. As a result, you’ll end up saving money on bandwidth costs.
- The availability of your content will be more reliable. Instead of trusting a single server to deliver your content, there will be many. If one server has an issue, there will be others to pick up the slack.
- Assets your website uses may already be present on a visitor’s computer. If your website uses something like jQuery, there’s a good chance your visitor already has it cached on their computer. This will be one less thing your site needs to load.
The cons of using a CDN
- Delivering content to people all around the world isn’t free. A CDN is essentially a collective group of servers, and those need power to run and people to maintain. Even the act of sending content through cables costs money. CDN costs don’t have to be huge, but they are a fact.
- When you use a CDN, you’re handing over control of your content to someone that isn’t you, typically Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. I believe that CDNs usually have their user’s best interests at heart, but ceding some control to anybody is still important to consider.
- A CDN necessarily introduces additional complexity to your workflow. You’re having to deal with an additional service with their own priorities. If you’re trying to simplify your life and business, this could throw a monkey wrench into your efforts.
- It’s in a CDN company’s best interest to ensure the safety and reliability of their customer’s content, but nothing online is infallible. No CDN can ever tout 100% security. They always do everything they can to be as secure as possible, but as with everything, bad things can happen.
Depending on your needs, a CDN could be a great benefit for your website. It can speed up and reliably deliver your content in ways that can have real benefits for your site and business.
The drawbacks of a CDN are a consideration that everyone should make when developing their online home. You may find that the cons outweigh the pros. You’ll never know for sure until you do the necessary research.
Keep in mind, if you’re using a service like Squarespace, your content is already being made accessible through the CDN that your platform uses. In which case, your website is being sent to your visitors at lightning speed without you having to do or pay anything extra. Talk about a win!
Keep this list of pros and cons in mind when you’re developing a website for yourself or your business. I think a CDN is a good tool, but you may feel differently. The great thing about the internet is there’s no single way to do things.
Deliver greatness, cats.