CDN Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the right CDN service provider

CDN Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the right CDN service provider

There are many factors to consider when choosing which CDN provider to pick to support your business, which makes the decision making process a tough one. In this series, we have been covering the most important factors to consider. While needs, costs and support are important, our previous blog post explores the importance of security and the added ‘extras’ that you may not know you need.

Staying secure and other additional features

Cyber-attacks and hacks

Along with content delivery, some CDN providers also offer cloud security services to help you mitigate cyber-attacks such as DDoS or site hacking. If you think you might become a victim of this type of attack, check to see if your CDN provider offers DDoS protection and/or a web application firewall. But be aware – some CDNs may claim to offer DDoS protection, but in reality, have rely upon their infrastructure to scale and increase capacity of servers with points of presence (PoPs) located around the world. It is these PoPs that allow some DDoS attacks to be absorbed – and not the CDN providers ability to provide actual DDoS protection.

Data security 

A lot of websites and applications use SSL, so ensure that your CDN can support secure socket layers. Some CDN providers take a hands-off approach, and can even accelerate data without inspecting it.

Some industries require additional know-how to fully optimise their content – like online gaming for example, where businesses must comply with the many security and domain name regulations. Compliance with PCI DSS (or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards), is required for any business that transmits credit card data. Each industry has specific requirements for content delivery – so make sure you understand what regulations you must adhere to and that your CDN provider might be able to help.

Cloud DNS

A CDN will accelerate the content delivered for your site, but if DNS performance is poor and the hostname is not resolved, then the user may never reach the CDN to experience how good the performance is. DNS performance in some regions, especially emerging markets such as China, South America and Russia can be poor, and relying on an undistributed DNS service with one name server is not advisable. Look for a DNS provider with globally distributed DNS name servers. This allows rapid global DNS resolution at the same time as instant configuration and updates. 

A further option to this is the ability to load balance via a DNS tool. You can select varying responses to a particular record based on rules such as user IP, geography, time of day, server health and polling or round robin characteristics.

Cloud Storage

If you need to deliver large files such a firmware updates or software downloads, there is considerable benefit in having these files uploaded and integrated into the CDN. When the file is requested for the first time by an end user, there is no requirement to pull the file from the customer origin, which means the file can be delivered more quickly and reliably. You also have control over when the content is uploaded and made available, so you can upload at a convenient time and then publish the file. There will be no further network traffic for that asset between the CDN and customer origin, with the CDN able to fulfil every request from the storage bucket.

Front end optimisation

With an ever growing number of users on different devices and network qualities, there is a requirement to offer optimisation as close as possible to the user device. Some CDNs offer front end optimisation that can tune a site to perform as best as possible for the visiting user. A user on a slow speed connection may benefit from automatically reduced quality images so they load more quickly, connections and downloads are pooled to maximise efficiency and JS minified to ensure no wasted traffic is sent.

Additional Requirements

Who to buy from: a CDN provider or a reseller/CDN broker?

As a CDN provider, we of course would recommend you do business directly with us. You cut out the middleman and you get the full package – including support.  But we know that isn’t always an option and sometimes it can be better to do a deal with a broker – which is why some CDNs partner with select resellers and brokers to help you meet your needs – and so do we.

So although you may love to use a CDN but they don’t offer contracts or support in your language – fear not, as they might have a partner that does. Or you might have heard about a CDN but are unsure if they’re worth it –they might partner with a renowned broker which would make you more comfortable going ahead with them. Or you might require other services such as hosting for example, then a broker that offers value added services to a CDN might be the right choice for you.

Ask for a test – trial phase

Choosing a CDN provider is a big investment, and picking the right one is an important decision – so being able to try before you buy is a definite before making any firm commitments. And most CDNs will be more than happy to offer a trial of their service. This may take the form of comparison testing using a performance monitoring tool such as dynaTrace or Catchpoint or a full trial where you can run live user traffic through the CDN to test the service. This is not always necessary, but can be a good start if you’re unsure of the service and what to expect. And if you’re not sure what to look for in your trial test results, check out our blog on web performance testing, where we outline everything you need to know to help you understand web performance metrics.

Also be sure to check out neutral and trusted comparisons of CDN providers – but be careful, as there are a load of comparison websites out there that fall short and do not live up to expectations (we’re talking about those comparison sites that just give you the name of the provider and the number of PoPs). The report from Forrester is a good starting point.

Customer references

While it may seem obvious, knowing that your CDN provider has done a good job is a sure way to make sure you are comfortable with your decision. Check your CDN providers’ website for case studies and reference customers – most should have a selection to choose from across several industry verticals. But make sure you grill them a bit – is the customer still a customer, and what exactly did you do for them? You might also want to ask if they have a reference customer in your industry or region, that might not be on the website but still willing to do a reference call.

The final factor

This series should give you a clearer idea in terms of what you should be looking for from your CDN provider. By defining and understanding the type of content you need to optimise, who and where your users are, how they access your content, and why they need your content delivered, you can present a prospective CDN provider with a crystal clear picture of all your content delivery needs. Ultimately, having a clear understanding will ensure you choose the CDN provider that is right for you, and your business.

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