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Distribution Decisions: Considerations for Choosing a CDN

Knowing the basics will ensure you’re paying a fair price for the delivery of your content and verify that you’re choosing the right CDN provider for your needs.

You’re in the market for a content delivery network (CDN) for your business. Where do you start? Knowing the basics will ensure you’re paying a fair price for the delivery of your content and verify that you’re choosing the right CDN provider for your needs.

Analytics

Measuring throughput and response time are great ways to evaluate the strength of your CDN. Digging deeper, you’ll want a robust analytics platform that includes multiple reports designed with the ability for you to segment data in a business-meaningful way.

The platform should be customized so you can define the granularity of your reports—from per-domain or per-CDN protocol reporting to full global metrics. This level of granularity will keep everyone both happy and informed.

CDNs offer numerous reports, including statistics on the amount of data transferred, total number of requests, average end-user transfer rate, cache hit/miss ratio percentage, completion ratio, completion ratio percentage, total delivery by data center, and total requests by data center.

The Traffic Analyzer is an extremely useful reporting tool that provides a number of detailed charts to help you analyze different aspects of the delivery. Filters can be applied to make comparisons based on region, traffic segments (account level and specific hosts) and timeframe.

Charts include the core metrics of bandwidth, requests, end-user transfer, completion ratio, total GB delivered, and average response size for your HTTP traffic. Look for the flexibility to select other detailed charts, filter for any timeframe desired up to 24 months back, and filter based on your account, subaccounts, hosts and regions of delivery.

Importance of Testing

There are many factors to evaluate when choosing a CDN. Two of the most important metrics are response time and throughput.

Response time is how long it takes for a server to respond to a browser request. Even if your pages are optimized, slow response time equals slow page load, which equals unhappy customers.

Throughput is the rate of successful message delivery over a communication channel, such as Ethernet or packet radio. To simplify, throughput is how strong or consistent the connection is during the session. Consider water pipes in your home. When you turn the faucet, response time is how long it takes for the water to start flowing, and throughput is how strong and steady the water flows when you leave it turned on.

There are obviously many more variables to consider when testing a CDN. But the most important thing is simply to test! Be sure the CDN meets your needs and passes your tests. Look for a free trial.

APIs

APIs offer CDN users more flexibility, improved security, added features and more. Leveraging APIs can help with account management and with creating user profiles, configurations, hosts, analytics and origins. Media operations can be integrated into your workflows, dashboards and automated processes.

Look for open documentation from your CDN partner on their CDN support portal, web site or blog.

CDN Pricing

Pricing is one of the first things many prospective customers ask a CDN provider about, and for good reason. When you are delivering a large amount of bits and bytes, the costs can really add up. When you get pricing quotes, be sure to understand that your needs are just that: yours.

Jay Moore

A CDN provider should work closely with you to estimate the amount of traffic you’ll deliver on day one, as well as what you might deliver down the road. Note that in addition to the actual price, you should understand that CDN’s different pricing models (pay as you go, annual contract, 95/5, etc.) and the rates for additional services (some are free, some are recurring, some are just for getting set up). Be sure to look for custom pricing options.

Customer Testimonials

Last but certainly not least, do your homework. Talk to your peers, friends and other businesses currently implementing CDN technologies. Find out what they like best, find out what they want improved, and most importantly, read testimonials.

CDN providers should be happy to show you who their current clients are and have testimonials from said clients for you to review. Any CDN can claim to be the best, fastest and so on—do your homework, read the reviews, and by all means, put them to the test.

Choosing a CDN doesn’t have to be difficult. I’m happy to answer any additional questions you might have about CDN technologies.

Jay Moore is vice president of marketing at Highwinds. Contact him at jay.moore@highwinds.com.   

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