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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Start The Content With Delivery Network

The user's proximity to our web server has an impact on response times. Deploying our content across multiple, geographically dispersed servers will make our pages load faster from the user's perspective. But where should we start?

As a first step to implementing geographically dispersed content, don't attempt to redesign our web application to work in a distributed architecture. Depending on the application, changing the architecture could include daunting tasks such as synchronizing session state and replicating database transactions across server locations. Attempts to reduce the distance between users and our content could be delayed by, or never pass, this application architecture step.

Almost 80-90% of the end-user response time is spent downloading all the components in the page: images, stylesheets, scripts, Flash, etc. This is the Performance Golden Rule. Rather than starting with the difficult task of redesigning your application architecture, it's better to first disperse our static content. This not only achieves a bigger reduction in response times, but it's easier thanks to content delivery networks.

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a collection of web servers distributed across multiple locations to deliver content more efficiently to users. The server selected for delivering content to a specific user is typically based on a measure of network proximity. For example, the server with the fewest network hops or the server with the quickest response time is chosen.

Some large Internet companies own their own CDN, but it's cost-effective to use a CDN service provider, such as Akamai Technologies, EdgeCast, or level3. For start-up companies and private web sites, the cost of a CDN service can be prohibitive, but as our target audience grows larger and becomes more global, a CDN is necessary to achieve fast response times. Switching to a CDN is a relatively easy code change that will dramatically improve the speed of our web site.

A common mistake that gets made when selecting a CDN is choosing one based solely on bandwidth costs. This could lead to nasty problems during the event. Small CDN may perform well when there is limited traffic or the traffic is distributed over a long period of time. However, if the traffic exceeds the capacity of the CDN to meet that demand, users experience buffering, lost connections and other mayhem, all things that severely affect the webcast experience. Unfortunately, this problem won’t reveal itself until it’s too late, when there is the most demand for our website.

To counter this problem, you need a CDN large enough to handle our traffic. A good CDN has many servers distributed around the world. By having more locations, they can better distribute access to these points and ensure than no bottleneck occurs. This guarantees that the capacity is there to handle the demand precisely when our event is progressing the sport to the next level. And everyone logged on will have a quality stream the whole time.

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