WHEN YOU hear the phrase “Content Distribution Network” it may sound to you like the propaganda spreading operations of a 1984 style government. In reality, a Content Distribution Network is really just a system of computers containing copies of the same data at different locations. This duplicate data exists so that separate servers can be accessed by separate regions so that there’s no “bottlenecking” where everyone’s trying to access the same central server at once.
HOW IMPORTANT IS A CDN?
With the internet becoming a more dynamic environment, it’s becoming more important for websites to deliver their content in a smooth and timely manner. People expect the web to react to them instantaneously. No one wants to lose connection with a website right after submitting their credit card number. At the same time, waiting five seconds for a web page to load feels like an eternity. The information superhighway moves fast, and you don’t want your site to get left behind.
Whether or not a Content Distribution Network will be advantageous to you is dependent on the size and traffic of your website. If you have a small personal website on a shared server, then you most likely do not have the traffic necessary to justify data on servers a thousand miles away from one another. While it’s true that you don’t need a professional CDN from your web host, there are still some content distribution tricks that you can learn to enhance your website’s performance.
TRICKING YOUR SERVER INTO LOADING FASTER
One big advantage of having a CDN is being able to use parallel loading. Which entails collecting information from different servers at the same time. Browsers have the ability to pull content from more than one hostname at the same time. By getting HTML from one server, CSS from another, and images from another, a web page can be built faster, thus lowering the load time. There is an optimal amount of parallel loading, which is discussed in an article on yahoo.
However, browsers understand that they’re getting information, but don’t necessarily know where that information is coming from. As a result, you can trick the browser into thinking that your one server is actually three different servers. If you organize your domain into multiple sub-domains (domain.com, domain.html.com, domain.css.com) and have different information come from each one, then you can have computers simultaneously gathering data from the same server.
Although you do get the benefits of parallel loading this way, you do not get the benefits of extra processing power. Imagine you have pipe that’s hooked up to a pump. If you widen the mouth of the pipe then you can get water to move faster and avoid “bottlenecking”. However, if much of the pump’s power is being used other places and you widen the pipe then water will not move any faster. In this case, your problem is that you don’t have enough power, not that water is getting stuck in the pipe. This is the same on the web. If you use parallel loading (widen the pipe) you still may not see benefit because you don’t have enough processing power from your servers (not enough pump power).
HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY!
If you’re using WordPress and don’t want to have to go through the technical hassle of downloading Google’s software, there are some plugins available to you. These plugins can help improve the performance of your WordPress site by increasing the chance that a user has already cached these files and compressing the files so that it takes less space on a server. In order to get the advantages of a CDN all you need to do is download one plugin.