Serving the WORLD wide web and the benefits of Content Delivery Networks

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Websites, historically, have been hosted on a single server in a single location. This methodology worked great for many years. However, the web is a very different beast compared to just five years ago. We all consume much more content served via the internet as technology and consumer patterns shift. The popularity of streaming services such as Spotify, BBC iPlayer, Netflix and now Apple Music is increasing exponentially and shows no sign of slowing. In fact, digital music revenues have overtaken physical sales for the first time (The Telegraph).

Another radical shift that the global expansion of the internet has brought with it is the blurring of international boundaries when it comes to delivering services. Cloud-based offerings such as Dropbox, Gmail and Trello have made collaborating between teams and locations seamless.

To enable these types of services to exist, they must work reliably and be location-agnostic. The technology that drove these types of businesses was once big bucks, unaffordable to most business and unthinkable to those that did not have a large digital marketing budget. That is no longer the case.

If you currently conduct any business outside the country that your website is hosted or if you are considering expanding into other markets, it’s worth considering how quickly your website loads from those other locations. Given that your website will often be the first point of contact, what if a prospect or investor is abroad when they first discover you?

Introducing Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

There are now many CDN suppliers out there, each with their own benefits. However, the concept behind each provider is the same. Static files such as JavaScript, CSS and images are offloaded from the server where the website resides and are mirrored across many servers distributed globally. When a user lands on your website, the static files are served from the CDN’s nearest server – by proximity – to the user. As a result, the files can be served much more quickly due to the low latency when connecting to a geographically close server and the website’s overall capacity increases as the workload is distributed around a great number of servers.

As an example, our CDN partner will distribute your files on servers in over 30 locations world-wide. When your files are updated, the CDN’s servers will also reflect those changes. And the best part of all? This is entirely automated.

Researching how your website performs around the world

There are several tools available to help take stock of how your website currently performs from multiple locations globally. Here’s a little short list that I’d recommend:

  1. Pingdom – Free and premium offerings
  2. Dotcom-Monitor’s Website Speed Test – Free
  3. Site 24×7’s Check Website Availability – Free

I’m going to focus on number 3, as it offers a particularly minimal and to-the-point set of results which makes comparisons straightforward.

Refining location testing

A great feature of the Check Website Availability service is the ability to choose exactly which locations to test from. Just under the field for entering a website address, there’s a link to “Add more test locations”. This will reveal the full list of 53 locations (at the time of writing) across North America, South America, Europe and Asia/Australia. This is particularly beneficial if you know the countries you will need to be targeting as you can monitor the gains specifically in those locations. For demonstration and testing purposes, I’ve included a wide range of cities/countries – 15 in total.

Running the test and interpreting the data

Once you’ve made your selection of locations, go ahead and run the test against your domain name. The tools will run through your selected locations and return a fairly comprehensive breakdown of the results. The time we’re going to focus on here is the total response time (the last column in the table). This is the total time involved in loading the website and should be a better real-world measurement rather than just the time to first byte.

Results without a CDN

For this test, I’m using a fully functioning WordPress website complete with a full set of content. The aim here is to test against a real-world scenario rather than just testing the performance of the server itself.

The results below are a mean average from 10 tests:

Location Response Time (ms)
Texas – USA 348
New York – USA 292
Los Angeles – USA 513
Montreal – Canada 308
Toronto – Canada 412
Rio de Janeiro – Brazil 864
Querétaro – Mexico 517
London – UK 38
Stockholm – Sweden 197
Paris – France 83
Singapore 633
Mumbai – India 14,585
Tokyo – Japan 923
Dubai 550
Sydney – Australia 768

Results with a Content Delivery Network

As before, the results are a mean average from 10 tests:

Location Response Time (ms) Change
Texas – USA 209  -139ms (-40%)
New York – USA 159  -133ms (-46%)
Los Angeles – USA 267  -246ms (-48%)
Montreal – Canada 159  -149ms (-48%)
Toronto – Canada 292  -120ms (-29%)
Rio de Janeiro – Brazil 452  -412ms (-48%)
Querétaro – Mexico 277  -240ms (-46%)
London – UK 7  -31ms (-82%)
Stockholm – Sweden 58  -139ms (-71%)
Paris – France 26  -57ms (-69%)
Singapore 431  -202ms (-32%)
Mumbai – India 268  -14,317ms (-98%)
Tokyo – Japan 514  -409ms (-44%)
Dubai 276  -274ms (-50%)
Sydney – Australia 544  -224ms (-29%)

As expected, the results are within a much tighter margin and there are fewer surprisingly high response times. Our server’s location for this test was based on London. You can see that London’s response time was very low and the nearby European countries also saw quick response times. The reason for these response times still being much lower is that although all of the static contents of the site are being delivery through our CDN, there are still some dynamic aspects of the website that will be delivered as normal from the server. However, as the large majority of a website is made up of the static elements, the overall gain in response times globally is very clear; every single location benefitted from the addition of the CDN and the average (mean) reduction in response time was 52%. The implementation of a CDN also smoothed out the connection issue you can see in the pre-CDN results from Mumbai which was likely having patchy connectivity to our London data centre.

Summary

If your website is expecting any international traffic – and most will – then it’s worth considering implementing of a Content Delivery Network. As the gains have been so clear in both testing and real-world use, we’re now including CDNs in our standard hosting package. You can read more about our full website design offering on our Website Design page.