Content Delivery Networks (CDN)

Content Delivery Networks (CDN)

A content delivery network (CDN) places files in different locations so that the person using your webpage can receive the nearest copy of it faster.
If you’re serious about speeding up your site and you’ve optimized the bejesus out of your site (smushed image, minified CSS and Javascript, set up a caching plugin…) it’s time to think about signing up to a content delivery network, or CDN.

A CDN will drastically reduce server lag by storing static resources on a network of fast loading servers. Choosing a CDN can be tricky since there are many options available. Finding the right one depends entirely on your needs and the popularity of your site.

If you are considering a CDN this page will help you out by showing the steps required and defining the terms used (which can be confusing). No matter what content delivery company you are looking into this page will help you out by giving you a more in depth look so you can make an informed decision.

What is a CDN and Why Use One?

A CDN (content delivery network) is a network of servers located in different parts of a country (or the globe) that stores files to be used by your website visitors.

The reason they exist is because there is a measurable amount of latency (waiting time) for a website user who is visiting a page that is hosted thousands of miles away. There are also routing issues that can occur when a user is seeing such a webpage. If someone in New York is using a webpage that is hosted in Los Angeles they are seeing a slower version of that webpage because of the above mentioned routing issues and sheer distance the files have to travel.

By having your files on several servers across a geographical area you can make sure the user is loading files that are near them, not all the way across the country or ocean.


Does your site need a CDN?

Content delivery networks are part of an overall website strategy, but they are not a first step to take when improving your site. It is important to ensure you are doing all the things you can do before taking on the cost and complication of a content delivery network.

I would honestly say that there is a set of priorities for most websites:

  1. Make your site amazing for your users
  2. Improve the pagespeed of your site
  3. Make your site mobile friendly
  4. Decide on if a CDN can further help

Some types of sites will almost always benefit from a CDN:

  • Sites streaming large video files
  • Sites which consist of mainly large media files like image sites
  • Sites which have known heavy traffic in different countries

Some sites almost never need a CDN:

  • Local business sites (restaurants, beauty parlors, etc.)
  • Sites that have their main traffic in one geographic area or region

Why are CDNs becoming so popular?

The real reason that so many businesses and webmasters are now using CDNs is because Google has started using pagespeed as a ranking factor. Content delivery networks however provide a faster experience for users, and that means happier users who buy more things and click more ads. An additional reason for CDN use is the explosion of tablet and mobile users who depend on speed more so than desktop users who have stabler internet connections.

CDNs are becoming a defacto part of a webmasters toolkit, and even if you don’t get one now you will probably have to do so later.

Content delivery network companies


Free Trial: If you use over 15TB a month you qualify for a free MaxCDN trial. This includes everything that comes with a MaxCDN enterprise account, including unlimited bandwidth, negotiable trial length, all features enabled, and one-on-one setup call.

Pricing: Basic Start Plan comes with 100BG bandwidth for two websites for $9 a month.

MaxCDN is a popular and well-known CDN that powers the likes of The Next Web, The Washington Times and WP Engine.

If you use W3 Total Cache, setting up MaxCDN is a piece of cake. Simply go to the plugin’s setting, enable the CDN function, select MaxCDN, and then go to the CDN tab and enter your CNAMEs and API credentials. MaxCDN will then serve up whatever you specify, including images, media, and JavaScript and CSS files.

An elegant control panel displays a CDN usage summary for your website, and you can also access information such as hourly breakdown, edge locations users, and your top 50 files.

The service has servers all over the world, including the US, UK, China and Australia, with more edge locations planned. In addition, MaxCDN has 53 peering partners in North America and Europe to minimize hopes between ISPs.


Free Trial: CloudFlare offers a basic free plan that includes fast site performance, board security protection and powerful stats about your visitors.

Pricing: Plans start at $20 per month for your first website and $5 per month for each subsequent website.

CloudFlare is another well-known CDN service. Unlike many CDNs, CloudFlare doesn’t charge for bandwidth usage on the basis that if your site suddenly gets popular or suffers an attack, you shouldn’t have to dread your bandwidth bill.

According to CloudFlare, on average a website using the CDN will load twice as fast, use 60 per cent less bandwidth, have 65 per cent fewer requests, and is more secure.

CloudFlare operates out of 28 data centers around the world and uses a technology called Anycast to route your visitors to the nearest data center.

Rackspace Cloud Files

Free Trial: No.

Pricing: Plans are pay-as-you-go and start at 10 cents for your first terabyte of storage and 12 cents for your first terabyte of CDN bandwidth.

Rackspace Cloud Files offers online object storage for files and media and uses Akamai, a third-party CDN, to deliver your files globally.

The service uses more than 200 global edge locations around the world so your users get content fact and from servers within their region. Cloud Files maintains three copies of each files, ensuring files are delivers fast and reliably.

Rackspace’s partnership with Akamai is significant. The CDN is one of the world’s largest distributed computing platforms, responsive for serving between 15 and 30 per cent of all web traffic. Some of the company’s customers have include Facebook and Twitter.


Free Trial: 30-day free trial.

Pricing: Plans start at $99 a month for 256GB bandwidth transfer and 1000MB storage.

CacheFly promises to deliver your static files (images, video, audio, CSS etc) at up to 10 times faster than other solutions. The company even guarantees 100 per cent network availability or your money back.

Microsoft, Adobe and Bank of America are just some of CacheFly’s clients.

While CacheFly has a solid reputation – and has clients who have stuck around since they started in 2002 – the only downside is that it’s one of the most expensive CDN options.

Amazon Web Services

Free Trial: The AWS Free Usage Tier includes 5GB of Amazon S3 storage, 20,000 get requests, 2000 put requests, and 15BG of data transfer out each month for up to 12 months.

Pricing: Amazon S3 storage starts at 3 cents per gigabyte for standard storage. Amazon CloudFront pricing starts at 12 cents per month for the first 10 terabytes, with separate pricing for regions outside the US.

Amazon offers a couple of services I’ll mention here. Amazon S3 is a budget-friendly storage solution designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers. Amazon CloudFront is a CDN that gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, secure and fast infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of websites.

While Amazon AWS has a reputation for reliability, it’s good to keep in mind that CloudFront is aimed at developers and not inexperienced users.


Free Trial: No.

Pricing: Plans are pay-as-you-go at a set price of 12 cents per gigabyte of CDN bandwidth or 15 cents per gigabyte of CDN SSL bandwidth.

SoftLayer, an IBM company, offers cloud infrastructure as a service from data centers and network points around the world. Its customers range from startups to global enterprises.

The company uses the EdgeCast CDN to provide 24 content delivery nodes around the world, in additions to SoftLayer’s 13 data centers and 17 extra network points of presence.

How hard are they to setup?

Any content delivery network you use requires some steps that can be frustrating. It isn’t a 5 minute thing (even if they say it is). I would dedicate a couple hours specifically to set yourself up and get things going. The time will be spent learning new terminology, checking things, and making sure your content is set up right.

Do I need a CDN if my customers are only in one country?

The quick answer is yes, especially if you are in a large country like the United States. The longer answer is that if your country is very small, and you are sure you only need to communicate with people in your country, then you might not need one. America is a good example of a large country where CDNs offer qualitative improvements to page speed, Liechtenstein (a country with only 70 square miles) is an example of a small country.