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Get up to speed with enhanced content delivery networks

With enhanced features and new delivery options, CDNs are poised to make greater inroads with enterprises to improve UX across the board.

Few enterprises have adopted content delivery networks over the past couple years -- and not for lack of need. All businesses would benefit from UX improvements that CDNs provide. Many legacy CDN offerings were complicated and expensive, requiring contractual commitments and unwieldy implementations. But this is no longer the case. The barrier to entry is lower compared to how it was two to three years ago, and the technology underwent enhancements that make it worthy of serious consideration for just about any business or organization.

CDN vendors recognize the growing potential they have with mainstream enterprise customers. Newer vendors in the CDN market and cloud platform tools provide flexible offerings and pricing structures, positioning CDNs as viable for organizations of all sizes.

With better pricing, functions suitable for a wide range of business needs, easy setup and easy integration, the future for CDNs is now.

CDN availability on major cloud platforms

These days, many businesses run at least some of their applications on a cloud platform, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, making CDNs a no-brainer, as all three cloud platforms provide CDN offerings. This makes CDN deployment achievable without the hassle of leaping into a new vendor relationship. With growing enterprise cloud use, customers can simply extend an existing cloud platform environment to deploy a CDN.

Pricing and deployment

Most CDNs offer a free trial -- some even provide a free-forever tier. While this tier provides limited functions and bandwidth, users can avoid cramming the trials and proof of concept into a limited time span.

Once in production, most CDNs offer a pay-as-you-go model similar to cloud platforms, which keeps costs in line with usage. This is usually preferable to paying a fixed fee for a minimum amount of CDN resources before an organization is ready to use it.

CDNs have appropriated the self-service model adopted by many SaaS vendors and always reside in the cloud. In the past, prospective customers had to contact sales to begin. Now, interested users can simply deploy directly from the website and begin testing the CDN.

Push zones

The most common CDN scenario is when users pull data like video and images from a CDN storage location closer to the user's physical location. We now see an increased focus on push zones instead, where the CDN serves as the upload target for a company's inbound data. While all websites deliver information, some companies need to receive files from users with users pushing the data into the CDN. This functionality improves UX with faster file upload so companies could process or publish videos created by customers. With a push zone, the upload burden is offloaded to the CDN provider. In short, the user pushes content to the CDN; the CDN stores it; and finally, the target company retrieves and processes the content. This approach makes sense for companies that handle large bundles of inbound data, such as video or large multimedia presentations, from their customers. Users gain benefits like better response time and faster uploads with the CDN taking the bandwidth and storage burden off the company's network.

Low-code/no-code website integration

Previously, CDN platforms often required changes to website HTML coding before deployment, making workers hardcode CDN references into website code. This was an arduous process, requiring approval to change production code, as well as extra labor from IT staff. This had long created a significant barrier for companies to even test the waters with a CDN.

Many of today's CDN vendors, such as Gumlet, tout low-code or even no-code platforms that can parse website code and dynamically replace references to CDN resources, as well as redirect calls for those resources to the caches maintained by the CDN. This scenario makes for a pain-free CDN test drive and, more importantly, for a smooth road to moving into production mode with a CDN.

System integrations

Legacy CDNs mainly focused on accelerating custom-built websites for large companies. But many organizations are increasingly dependent on content management systems (CMSes) and programming and services frameworks. CDN systems need to be tuned in to different CMS and service frameworks in order to interface correctly with each. Many CDNs work via an API call, which requires specific integration so the CDN API can work in conjunction with the runtime environment of the CMS and frameworks. The CDN might have to generate a custom version of its API to work with each of the CMSes and frameworks. As a result, modern CDNs can now accommodate these increasingly popular environments with the necessary integrations, whether it is WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento or countless others.

Image and video focus

Offering image and video content is a key business element for many organizations, but delivering significant amounts comes with challenges. Images require optimization for the recipient device, like a mobile or high-resolution desktop. The same is necessary for videos for the bandwidth available. Since it makes no sense to send high-resolution video across a slow link to a low-resolution device, the CDN sends a smaller, compressed version of the video that downloads faster so the end user would see little or no difference. The CDN can recognize the type of end client and determine which version of the image or video to deliver.

CDNs not only offload image and video object delivery, but they can also offload individual delivery to each user. Gumlet is one vendor focused solely on providing image or video front end, while partnering with another CDN for caching and delivery.

Scale to higher-end CDNs

In the past, users who tested the waters with a smaller CDN would be forced backward to remove the API calls required by the current vendor if they had chosen instead to move to a bigger CDN. Vendors required custom hooks, typically API calls or other code snippets that act as calls to the CDN. These could make upgrading or changing a challenge equivalent to a forklift upgrade.

This now seems like less of an obstacle. Microsoft Azure is one cloud vendor with CDN options that enable customers to migrate from the low-end cloud CDN to either Akamai's or Verizon's Web Acceleration high-end CDN environments. So, options abound.

This was last published in October 2021

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