An Intro to Content Delivery Networks [CDN] for Blogs: Pros, Cons, and More

Content Delivery Networks are awesome for blogs!

[This post is part of theĀ Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series.]

One of the things that you might want to consider at some point, especially as your blog scales and begins to get to a point of profitability, is using a Content Delivery Network (CDN).

For the uninitiated a CDN is simply a network of servers that deliver your blog’s content from around the world relative to the visitor’s geographical location.

In other words, instead of sending the visitor the content from the location of your hosting provider directly it will send the visitor the content from a location that is geographically closer, thus speeding up the response time and delivery time of the actual content! This can only be a good thing!

I’ve created a short little video to show, in layman’s terms, what this is all about:

[tentblogger-vimeo 22893859]

So essentially a CDN enables someone from accessing your content and your blog faster from a location that is closer to them geographically! Instead of pinging a server from California (when you’re in NY or perhaps in Italy) you get a server with the same content (copied from California) but from a server in NY or Italy (or somewhere a lot closer).

I took a snapshot randomly today to see where people where visiting my blog from and you can see that at any given time I’m supporting a worldwide audience:

A real-time snapshot of traffic.

People in the states, Europe, Asia, and one person in New Zealand and Malaysia.

Pretty neat! It’s quite obvious that my needs even here at TentBlogger warrant a CDN.

My sketch of the world...

Most CDN’s have nodes or servers world wide but you can even specify the delivery points if you’d like via software and administration.

The types of content that might be stored on a CDN range from just text to extremely large media files. Generally as a blogger you’d put your images, CSS files, JavaScript files, and anything else you’d like.

The Awesome Pros:

In short a CDN is helpful for:

  1. Increasing speed of delivery of your blog’s content to your end user and visitors.
  2. Decreases “strain” and amount of “work” (decreases processing power) that your central server has to manage by distributing it to other servers world wide.
  3. Helps make your server “crash resistant” because of the decrease amount of load on your central server.
  4. Decreases bandwidth caps or requirements from your hosting provide by distributing it to your CDN’s system.
  5. Generally increase your visitor’s user experience with your blog.
  6. Increase SEO ranking because your site loads faster. I have seen this work time and time again as the sites that I pull through a CDN begin to have more organic search returns over time. I totally dig this!

In short you’ll want to consider using a CDN at some point, especially if your blog continues to grow!

The Possible Cons:

Like anything out there a CDN also has it’s potential challenges and cons. Here are a few that you might want to consider:

  1. CDN’s cost additional money per month (or per usage) to use. At the end of the day you’ll be spending more money on your blog.
  2. Using a CDN requires that a new connection is opened on another server instead of using an already open and existing connection to your website. Generally speaking, creating a new connection is slows down a site.
  3. Challenges of managing the cached files as well as “versioning” (making sure the right versions are the same, mirrored) can be difficult at times. In the worst scenarios your audience is getting different user experiences with different files!
  4. Development can be difficult if you require a CDN for serving your development needs. In other words, you need a constant internet connection to do development because you won’t have a local copy. This is a challenge for developers and not so much normal every day bloggers.
  5. CDN’s force an addition DNS lookup. Some page speed ranking tools and optimization scripts penalize you for this unless you specify the CDN.
  6. A CDN is essentially another “point of failure” – what if the CDN goes down? There’s not much risk involved her but it’s always a possibility. Just think of Amazon’s S3 system going down last week!

The biggest “con” is really the additional cost to manage your blog but that shouldn’t be too bad if you’re blog is scaling financially with your traffic.

For a picture of what this might look like here’s a snapshot of my current allotment and pricing:

Yup. It isn't too cheap...

As you can see I have almost 10TB in reserve and I typically buy in 25TB per 4-6 months. You can quickly see how much this actually costs me on a per year basis!

Thankfully my blog can support this cost financially and my end-user benefits from the increased speed!

But don’t be fooled – it’s not a completely “pennies on the dollar” type situation.

My sketch of the US...

Is a CDN Right for Me?

At the end of the day a CDN is right for you if the following things are true:

  • You have a little extra money to spend, either from another source or from the blog directly. I typically challenge bloggers to consider a CDN when the blog, itself, can pay for it!
  • You are willing to be challenged a bit (not too much actually) technically in order to get it to work properly on your blog.
  • Your blog is growing in audience and is scaling to serve people worldwide.
  • You really value your end-user’s experience with your blog and are willing to invest the time and money to make it happen!
  • You’re at a point where SEO is a significant and foundational strategy for your blog’s growth moving forward. I would argue that SEO should always be a strategy and goal but it does not always have to be a foundational strategy for you right now, especially if you’re a beginning blogger.

I would say that if you answered “Yes” to most of these then you’re ready for a CDN!

10 Proven CDNs to Choose From:

There are some great CDN companies out there and more and more are showing up (it seems) every year. Here are a list of 10 that have stood the test of time and have either gotten great reviews from people that I trust or that I’ve personally used for my own needs.

For those that are interested I actively use the first 3: MaxCDN, VPS, and Amazon.

1. MaxCDN

I personally use MaxCDN for my needs and I love them. Highly recommend checking them out if you’re interested in jumping into a CDN! They’ve got a beautiful interface and it’s very easy to setup on a WordPress-powered blog.

In fact, I’ve created a post outlining how to use MaxCDN with W3 Total Cache!

2. VPS.net

I also use VPS and I think they are amazing. The fast load times that you guys experience are due to their systems! Seriously check them out for hosting and your CDN needs!

3. Amazon CloudFront

Up until recently Amazon CloudFront has had a relatively spotless track record – and I still believe in their service! I use them for large media files as well as podcasting files daily. Check them out here.

Depending on the size of your traffic and usage the cost could be really affordable. Here’s a recent statement:

Didn’t break the bank!

4. Rackspace Cloud Files

Another great alternative and well-regarded player in the field. Check out Rackspace Cloud Files here.

5. Akamai

Akamai has been around for some time and powers some really large Fortune 50 sites. I used them for a lot of my needs while I worked in big business (seems like forever ago…).

6. Limelight Networks

You can check out Limelight Networks here.

7. EdgeCast

Check out EdgeCast here. WordPress themselves has used them to stream video and broadcasts.

8. Cotendo

Cotendo information here.

9. Dropbox as CDN

This is a neat solution that more and more people may begin to use actively: Dropbox as a CDN! You can easily hook it up with this WordPress plugin here.

10. Level3

Level3 has been around for a time too. Well respected too.

So hopefully that was helpful! In a follow-up post I’ll walk you through specifically how to setup a CDN for your WordPress blog.

I now have that follow-up post outlining how to setup and install a CDN on your WordPress blog! Check it out here!

Let me know if you have any questions!

[This post is part of theĀ Ultimate Guide to Launching a WordPress-Powered Blog series.]

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