Rishi Varma, Director Product Management at Akamai Technologies

Meeting online demand without disruption: Why businesses need a CDN

By Rishi Varma, Director Product Management at Akamai Technologies

Online video is startlingly resilient. Quietly, and without interruption, companies such as YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon have all dramatically scaled their streaming services to meet global demands. Their successes share something in common: content delivery networks (CDNs).

These distributed servers dramatically improve the performance, security, and reliability of web services, even supporting the rapid growth brought on by COVID-19 lockdowns. Now that people are even more comfortable working, shopping, and playing online — and with 5G transformations looming on the horizon — it is imperative that companies consider not just how to grow an online business, but how to keep it running in times of unprecedented demand.

Whether you run a video games service, an e-commerce store, or a website, here are four ways your website or mobile application can benefit from a CDN.

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  1. Improves performance

We all know time is money. Online, time is measured in milliseconds. Slow-loading websites not only have penalized Google search rankings but risk losing 74% of mobile visitors if they take longer than five seconds. The repercussions of that poor user experience extend to applications as well, jeopardizing sales, adoption, and retention.

A CDN improves performance in two notable ways: routing and caching. The first utilizes the CDN’s distributed infrastructure to find the user’s nearest edge server and then charting an optimized path to the origin server. This reduces peering between multiple Internet providers, domain name resolution times, and lost packets from offline or congested networks, all of which makes for faster response times — a key consideration for video games.

Caching, on the other hand, stores content copies right on the edge servers themselves. By completely bypassing the origin server, the user saves even more time while you save on back-end processing. Previously, caching was only used for static content such as web pages and videos. Today, leading providers such as Akamai feature advanced-cache controls and fast purge capabilities to support e-commerce stores and other dynamic environments.

  1. Reliable traffic scaling

More traffic is usually a good sign, but unplanned spikes — be it a denial-of-service (DoS) attack or an accidental flash crowd — can overwhelm a server and bring it offline. 64% cited reputation damage as the biggest consequence of DoS attacks, let alone revenue, making downtime particularly worrisome for SaaS providers, e-commerce stores, and content sites.

While elastic scaling helps, it is neither an instantaneous nor a universal solution. A CDN, by virtue of its massive server distribution, easily absorbs millions of requests per second. Offloading such traffic from the origin server to the thousands of edge servers around the world allows your websites and applications to remain operational throughout peak periods, unplanned spikes, and ongoing growth.

In this regard, CDN providers have different uptime guarantees. Akamai manages its own network infrastructure, so it has a 100% availability service level agreement (SLA) to ensure business continuity. In comparison, a 99% SLA exposes your assets to 7.2 hours of downtime every month.

  1. Introduces edge security

Yet there’s more to cybercrime than DoS attacks. Between December 2017 and November 2019, Akamai observed more than 85 billion credential abuse attacks. Furthermore, nearly 20% of those were targeted at application programming interfaces (APIs) used in websites and apps. Meanwhile, new exploits and malware are routinely developed, updated, and deployed against companies large and small.

Protecting one’s own network is no longer enough. Given the increasingly volatile online landscape, the best form of security lies between users and potential attackers. By stopping threats closer to these attackers, at the edge servers, you significantly cut the risk presented to your infrastructure. A CDN with good security can not only mitigate distributed DoS attacks but also identify any hacking attempts hidden underneath.

This will become more prevalent as digital business goals come to pass. Mobile-first strategies and enterprise cloud migration will see greater reliance on the Internet and APIs, and with it comes an expansion in the variety and sophistication of attacks. Cloud-based solutions, such as Akamai’s Cloud Security Intelligence, helps companies to stay on top of the latest threats.

  1. Actionable insights and intelligence

As content hubs carrying nearly half of the world’s Internet traffic, CDNs have access to plenty of end-user data. Connectivity, device types, and browsing experience can reveal insights into customers’ digital experiences. By processing this data, businesses can discover trends, patterns, and preferences to refine their content offerings or business models. As mentioned, there are tools to monitor security threats, too.

Akamai uses real-time user performance metrics, mPulse, for granular visibility into the performance of your sites and apps. Data is stored for up to 13 months to power “What-If” predictive analysis and to identify problematic resources affecting page load times. It can also provide “perceived performance metrics” for you to fine-tune a page before launch.

Akamai also has DataStream, which provides raw and aggregated logs on CDN health, latency, errors, and much more. Where mPulse measures how your users engage with your site, DataStream investigates how the CDN itself impacts that engagement. Combined, they provide a holistic overview that enables data-backed improvements to content delivery, app development, and user experience.

Staying ahead of the digital curve

As businesses rethink their operations and strategies, many businesses acted nimbly have pivoted online, however, not all businesses are thriving in the online sphere – yet. A secure CDN network can offer these businesses the speed, security, and bandwidth required to scale their business while providing consumer insights that can help to improve user experience. It is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things and strategic investment for the company in the long run.

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