What Is a CDN? A Visual Explanation

A CDN (Content Delivery Network),more commonplace in hosting plan offerings, is a must for any business site. By hosting web content on servers spread across the globe, content can be delivered to a user faster by using relatively localized servers.

But if you’re like me, you are not overly technical; you get the concept of a CDN in theory, but do you GET IT get it? Here’s my nontechnical take on what a CDN is and why it’s a true benefit for any website.

Imagine we have a room.

In this room, we’re going to place a single television screen. This screen is your website. Likely, when you start out, you don’t have much of an audience.

As you begin developing content, a handful of friends and colleagues may visit. Plus, your site will begin being crawled by search engine bots.

But as you attract more attention, it gets a bit hard to gain access to your site and its content. Too many folks want to get to your site at the same time and they can’t just get close enough to the source for a quick, enjoyable experience.

Here is where a CDN could help. By storing the same content, images, and files that make up your site in several locations, you create multiple access points that allow for faster site loads.

Plus, with more servers hosting the same bits of your site, traffic can be more uniformly handled to prevent bottleneck issues.

Also, if one server location experiences and outage — either from an innocent traffic surge or a malicious DDoS attack—the redundancy of the network can ensure your site is still accessible to all.

There are a trainload of CDNs out there which vary in total functionality and cost. For those of you on WordPress, you can take advantage of JetPack’s free Photon add-on. I also have clients using CloudFlare, Akamai, and Amazon CloudFront.

These clients have seen better pageload speeds and less downtime during traffic surges by actively leveraging a CDN. Odds are your hosting provider offers their own CDN service, or has partnered with a third-party, so it is worth investigating to see if you can start benefitting from a distributed content network.