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What’s the Difference Between CDNs and Hosting?

Traditional hosting was once the big buzz for website performance — shared servers, private servers, server farm quality, and more. It all amounted to having the right parking space for your site, able to handle traffic volumes suited to your business operations without downtime.

But the modern website demands are very different from ten years ago. And that’s where a CDN ( Content Delivery Network, otherwise called a Content Distribution Network) steps in to keep things up to speed.

So the first thing to get clear when you’re wondering about CDN meaning is that content delivery networks don’t replace traditional hosting, they enhance it. This article explores how it works and gives you an overview of what makes CDNs a modern necessity, for businesses of all sizes.

Modern Website Needs

What’s changed to make traditional hosting insufficient for websites in the 2020s? There are three main factors at play:

Data Size

Unlike ten years ago, when websites were mostly dishing up small text and graphic files, the current demand for high quality video, audio and advanced animation is high. The online space is now arguably the main storehouse for both personal and commercial multimedia content. This places a much bigger strain on single location servers.

Advancing Technology & Globalization

With technology expanding our reach and shrinking the world into a connected village, rich website content needs to be able to serve browser requests from users all over the globe. Just imagine large multimedia files needing to travel from Colorado, America for example, to multiple points in Africa, Asia, Europe, New Zealand and more, within milliseconds.

Audience Expectation

People these days have less time and patience, they want instant, on-demand content delivery with no latency (upload delays). Large corporations with huge infrastructure have made this the norm, so customers expect it from every business, no matter their size.

Research by the Aberdeen Group and reported by Forbes, found that a single second delay in website speed causes 11% less page views, 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% less conversions. If you’re a large business, that amounts to thousands of dollars per year. And if you’re a startup or smaller business, you’re already facing major competition and can’t afford to lose out on 7% of sales.

When it comes to mobile users, people are even more impatient. Research by Google in 2018 found that over half of users will leave a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. And a five-second page load delay more than doubles the chances that your visitor will click away.

So, if you combine larger multimedia files being so popular, along with an increasingly global and impatient audience, traditional hosting simply can’t keep up.

This is where CDNs shine out. They cache (store) a website’s static content in multiple ‘edge servers’, spread around the world. When a person accesses a website to view a video for example, the CDN cache automatically finds the closest edge server to deliver that content to them. This is called Points of Presence (PoP). Because the data has a shorter distance to travel, there are no load time delays and no streaming pauses, even with large files.

For more in-depth information about how edge servers work, see What Is a CDN?

CDNs vs. Traditional Hosting

To make things even clearer, let’s look at the key differences between traditional hosting and a content network, using two analogies:

Express Delivery

Your traditional (original) hosting server contains all your website’s content assets. That doesn’t change. But with CDN caching, you now have numerous additional edge servers located around the world with saved versions of your site’s multimedia. This means they have points of presence which are conveniently close to where the person viewing your website is located, so they can serve the content faster than the original hosting server.

It’s like big supermarkets and their satellite express stores — there are more express stores than mega stores spread out in localised areas, so that people can quickly get what they want in their neighbourhood. Express stores (edge servers) carry the same stock, and the mega store manager (website owner) can choose what stock (multimedia assets) the express stores carry to serve local customers.

Swarm Reliability

With traditional hosting your website is generally parked in one server or location. All multimedia content from your site comes from that source. CDNs are more like a global swarm — there are lots of edge servers acting as one to swiftly deliver content assets closest to where they’re wanted. Using this analogy, content from your website downloads and streams faster because it doesn’t need to travel back to the main hive, it’s delivered by the worker bees.

Benefits of CDNs

With a content delivery network enhancing your traditional hosting, it gives your business a number of key advantages:

  1. Reduced Hosting Costs — CDN edge servers will distribute the load that your original hosting server used to handle on its own. This means you’ll need less bandwidth from your hosting provider.
  2. Customer Experience Boost — we’ve given you some statistics which demonstrate how much people hate waiting for content to load up. They also hate it when a video stalls (buffers) because of a hosting server delay called ‘packet loss’. With multiple edge servers around the world, waiting to serve the closest customer, latency and streaming interruptions are a thing of the past.
  3. Cybersecurity Protection — criminals use infected computers to flood a website with fake traffic and media requests, causing it to drastically slow down or crash. This is called a DDoS attack, and unfortunately it’s increasingly happening to smaller businesses who tend to be less protected than large organizations. With a CDN you’re no longer reliant on one hosting server, so your site’s ability to handle sudden spikes in traffic is vastly improved. Quality CDNs also provide a Web Application Firewall (WAF), which blocks suspect traffic as well as DDoS attacks from accessing your web server in the first place. To learn more about cybersecurity, read How a CDN Can Help Protect Against DDoS Attacks.
  4. SEO Perk — Google frowns on slow websites, it ranks them lower than speedy sites. So a CDN will improve your SEO, without you having to lift a finger.

For a more in-depth guide, read Why All Online Businesses Need a CDN.

Takeaway

It’s not an either/or choice between traditional hosting and a content delivery network. Both are equally needed by modern online businesses. You still need your original hosting, but CDNs add rocket fuel by caching (saving) your website's multimedia files in multiple edge servers around the world. This enables a CDN to deliver content faster, by serving it from the edge server closest to the user locations (points of presence). And that means happy customers who don’t experience page load or video streaming delays.

CDNs also lower your hosting bandwidth costs, because instead of all your website traffic making content requests to one server location, you have numerous content network edge servers to do the heavy lifting. This also brings crucial added security against DDoS attacks. Think of it like hosting being the main hive, and CDNs being the swarm of worker bees.

Why Choose Supersonic CDN with Namecheap?

We’ve built a 20 year global track record of trust for giving our customers a range of vital web services. From useful apps to domains and cybersecurity security, and more. Our new CDN is available to Namecheap’s domain/DNS and managed EasyWordpress, and our hosting customers will soon be able to benefit too. Namecheap believes in giving people the business tools you need without the usual roadblocks — high quality, user-friendly and super affordable.

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