One technology that has improved website experience for users and web owners over the years is the CDN. While many confuse its function and features with that of traditional web hosting, there happen to be distinct differences between them. Those differences will be discussed in this article.
What is a CDN?
You may have come across the word but your mind still questions. ‘What is a CDN?’ A CDN simply refers to a group of linked servers located strategically in certain places that operate together to ensure fast internet content delivery.
More websites now utilize CDN technology to keep delivering content quickly for traffic management. CDN is an acronym for the ‘Content delivery network’. A website using a well secured and configured CDN will be protected from malicious attacks such as DDOS (Distributed Denial of service) challenges.
Basically, in the absence of CDNs, when an end-user sends a query to the server originating the content the end-user may experience lag time because the original server may be attending to millions of other queries at that same time or maybe geographically too far away to guarantee fast loading speed.
A CDN becomes of benefit to both contents providing server and user by offloading resources from the origin server and bringing it geographically closer to the end-user. This will increase response time to user query because queries will not have to be attended to by the faraway content providing server but a nearby CDN.
Is a CDN the same as a web host?
In time past, typical web hosting was all there is to internet experience on the World Wide Web however typical web hosting cannot cater to the complex and ambiguous demands of modern-day internet hence the need for content delivery networks or CDNs.
DNS does not host original content, they instead help deliver the contents to end-users in quality time. Most times, a web host refers to a single server but a CDN is a network of globally linked servers that shares the content from a multi-host source.
With the typical web hosting, you can be sure to get the content delivered to the user’s internet device but the server has to be located in every place all over the globe. Even if the server is located in every place, the user has to wait for the server to mobilize the content before sending however with the CDNs closer coverage, queries from whichever place are responded to as though the original server is close by thereby increasing download speed.
In most cases, assets load faster in relation to the proximity between the CDN server and the end-user.
Though CDNs do not host original content, they reduce the bandwidth of host servers, prevent disconnection in service, and improve site security by caching contents. CDNs act to remedy the faults that typical web hosting may not cover.
How does a CDN work?
The CDN technology network servers are not origin host servers but functions so that web contents can be accessed by computers as cheap, quick and secured as they could be. For speed and connection to be optimized, a CDN server would be placed in a central location between networks.
Internet providers link their resources to these points for the purpose of sharing access to cater for the traffic in their individual network. This helps reduce pressure on host servers.
For instance, a certain content which originates from a Europe based host server is receiving a visitor from the US, the visitor will have slow loading pages due to the distance between his device and the host server but a CDN server will solve this challenge by caching the content from the host server and bring it closer to the visitor hence increasing speed and security.
CDN servers containing cached versions of contents from host servers are situated in various locations around the globe. These CDN servers will take over the responsibility of getting the contents to user devices.
If the closest CDN server does not have the requested file, it will request the file from other CDN servers on the network and when it finds the file, it replies to the requesting web browser.
If the CDN server is unable to locate the requested content perhaps due to unavailability or other reasons, what is a CDN’s response? It sends a request to the host server and preserves the content for future requests. Though the most common use of CDN servers is to deliver website materials, CDN servers can be used also to deliver audio streams, HD-quality videos, software downloads in the form of OS updates, games and applications.
CDN servers are useful in the delivery of any data that can be presented in digital form. Still, thinking what is a CDN to be given such attention?
The advantages of CDN hosting are concisely listed below:
- Improves load time of websites: By bringing contents to the proximity of site visitors through CDN server installations, visitors to websites experience pages loading at a faster pace and also reduces the number of bounces.
This encourages people to spend more time on your website because the faster your site, the more visitors will remain longer on your site.
- Reduction in money spent on bandwidth: one of the major expenses incurred by website owners is money spent on bandwidth. Caching and certain other optimizations used by CDN servers reduce the volume of data offered by the origin host server. This reduces the cost of hosting for site owners.
- Optimizes availability and redundancy of site content: When a huge amount of queries traffic a site beyond its capacity or in any event of hardware damage, the proper functioning of a website will be disturbed.
However, the shared nature of the CDN network makes traffic handling and emergency response to hardware failure easier as compared to experiences with most origin host servers.
- It improves the security of websites: CDNs reduce the chances of attacks on websites by offering DDOS mitigation, enhancements to security certificates and certain other security optimizations.
Data security-how does a CDN protect data?
Safeguarding information is one of the topmost priorities of CDN so it employs TLS/SSL certificates in keeping sites protected. These certificates ensure high-grade encryption, authentication and integrity.
CDN also secures websites from brute-force attacks and similar vulnerabilities websites may have. Brute-force attacks are attacks launched by hackers who use trial and error to decode passwords which are encrypted data through forceful applications instead of attempting intellectual approaches.
Some Brute-Force attacks have crashed websites, interrupted service, tarnished website reputation and cause monetary damage when they got access to the server of websites or the account of users.
CDN analyzes every query coming into your site and restricts any traffic which appears illegitimate. This ensures that entries from spams, attacker bots and requests from malicious sources are hindered from accessing your site.
CDNs also protect data by guarding websites against attack from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks have become popular in recent times, these attacks have also increased in their complexity and size. Attackers target websites through botnets but a well-configured CDN is equipped with adequate structures to withstand and fight back DDoS attacks which would normally overpower the origin host server.
CDNs give room for failover among servers. Some systems which deal with high levels of reliability and almost unending availability use failovers to preserve traffic and traffic data when a server is faulty.
Failover is carried out by redirecting traffic from a faulty server to another server which is functioning properly. This automatic redirect shifts tasks immediately to a standby server thereby reducing cases of data or traffic loss. Other means by which CDNs protect data include:
- CDNs protect search engines from pseudo searches by crawling bots.
- CDNs produce time-specific reports of attempted security breaches such as a well-detailed event with a known IP, timestamp, action, country and triggered rules. It also provides details of top threat sources.
- They also provide CAPTCHA security and Spambot protection.
As vital as CDNs are, they cannot substitute origin host servers, instead, they only complement the functions of host servers.
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