Content delivery networks have provided a way for companies to deliver rich media to users all over the world without diminished performance. A CDN is a system of high-optimization web servers that are geographically disparate. When a user requests a specific piece of content, the system determines which node is the closest to that user, and if that server has the content in question, it can load the media instead of relying on the host's infrastructure. This strategy improves page load time and overall website speed, particularly since a CDN is designed for data replication, which means that highly demanded media will be copied onto different nodes.
Businesses often use CDNs to deliver streaming media such as video, but they are useful for maximizing site performance as well as reducing bandwidth strain on the host's hardware. When it comes to selecting a CDN provider, there are several other considerations businesses should make. Streaming Media executive vice president Dan Rayburn highlighted several important factors that determine whether a particular network would be a good investment for a business, including:
- The type of content the business wants to deliver
- Which formats the CDN supports
- Where the majority of website traffic comes from
- The volume of content the company plans to deliver
Keeping these considerations in mind is important for determining which service will be the most valuable. For example, a company that is delivering content to a worldwide audience will want to ensure the provider has infrastructure distributed internationally to reduce latency and performance issues. In addition, cloud server hosting can maximize website performance by offering highly scalable infrastructure.
"Keeping all that in mind, there are a lot of questions to ask providers, including what formats they support, where they are located, what type of reporting they have, etc. The number of questions you need to ask depends on exactly what service you need and how familiar you already are with shopping for a delivery provider," Rayburn wrote. "Most customers already know to ask the basic questions, but there are some questions that involve more detailed responses and require more knowledge of the offering."
CDN providers add more value
One of the advantages of avid market competition in the CDN space is that providers have had to find new ways of differentiating themselves. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that this has led to a proliferation of managed hosting services such as website security and PCI compliance offerings. Even as a large number of providers add value to their offerings, however, the CDN market has continued on a path of healthy growth, having reached $2.7 billion in 2012.
Other common services include website acceleration, according to Wall Street Journal. The extra services associated with CDN providers appear to be a focal point, as revenue from these offerings grew 20 percent in the last quarter, compared with 11 percent growth in the overall CDN market.
As offerings become more diverse and expand to include a large portfolio of services, companies will need to go through a thorough vetting process. CDN-specific considerations like the ones Rayburn highlighted represent a strong starting point, but business decision makers must continuously think beyond a single angle and explore the entirety of a given offering.
"With [content delivery network services] now being around for more than 10 years, you would think it should be pretty easy to compare one provider to another to decide what service is best for your needs," Rayburn wrote. "It's a nice idea in theory, but in reality, it's still not that simple for most customers. The CDN market is constantly changing, multiple distribution protocols are available, and online video formats and platforms are constantly evolving, ensuring that it will remain a complex task."