Many organizations build websites with the hope of reaching millions of customers. How much traffic they actually get is anybody’s guess. But in anticipation of a large number of customers, they build over-capacity or, to make matters worse, they have under-capacity. And when the users finally hit their site, it goes down.

This recently happened with a popular retailer that tried to reduce the rush to its outlets where a sale was happening by requiring people to register online. However, they got such a high amount of traffic that their site could not handle so many user requests.

An easy way to be able to handle a large number of users without upgrading your information technology (IT) infrastructure significantly is by using a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN, which can be set up without the need to re-architect your infrastructure, works well for all kinds of content—videos, images or static content. Furthermore, new-generation CDNs can be used to accelerate business applications as well.

CDNs are now used by a variety of industries. Media and entertainment companies were the first to come on board, as for them CDN is the only way they can deliver media-rich content such as videos.

But other businesses can benefit from CDNs too: those in banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) can use a CDN not only to improve application performance but also to secure their infrastructure. Here are some of the key advantages of using a CDN:

Faster speeds: CDNs were invented to reduce the World Wide Wait (a sarcastic take on WWW or the World Wide Web). CDNs bring your content close to the users by replicating or mirroring the content at the “edge servers"—the servers deployed at various service providers. To access content, users connect to these edge servers, which store a ‘local cached copy’ of the original content to make the online experience faster. For example, if your server is based in Mumbai, but the users are in Bengaluru, they can connect to a CDN edge server in Bengaluru to access the content rather than the Mumbai server—thereby reducing the latency (delay).

CDNs were initially used for high-traffic website and videos, but are now being used by most of the websites.

Hyper-local CDNs are the next wave of CDNs where the edge nodes (servers) will be deployed even closer to users in, say, apartment complexes, malls and hotels. The reasons are clear: faster speed means higher customer retention. According to a user behaviour study by SOASTA, an Akamai Technologies Inc. company, nearly 10% of visitors will leave a site if response times increase by only one second and nearly 30% will not return to a slow site.

One key benefit of a CDN is better security. It can protect your website from attacks as your core infrastructure is firewalled behind the CDN infrastructure.

Easy scaling: Most people think that the only way to scale up is to move to the cloud. But CDN also helps reduce the traffic hitting your core data centre and cloud infrastructure. For example, for a typical e-commerce website, about 95% of the users are only browsing the content and only 5% are actually going to make any purchases. In case the company uses a CDN, these 95% users can easily be served by the CDN and only the remaining 5% traffic—the more valuable one for the company—will go to the core infrastructure.

Security: One key benefit of a CDN is better security. It can protect your website from attacks as your core infrastructure is firewalled behind the CDN infrastructure. This is particularly useful if your site gets a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack which is likely to bring down your website immediately. Since the CDN is the first point of contact for your customers, they are also the first point of attack. Most CDNs are built with a distributed architecture and can mitigate a DDOS attack.

Global presence: If you have customers coming from different parts of the world but your web infrastructure is located in one country, they will experience delay in performance. Here, without your having to set up a data centre in each country, global CDNs can help you server customers faster because they can get served by local edge servers in those countries.

Lower costs: Apart from the intangible benefits of improved customer experience, CDNs also help to reduce data centre/cloud hosting cost. Since the amount of data that goes to your core infrastructure gets reduced, the cost also gets reduced.

Prakash Advani is co-founder and CEO of PicoNets, a hyper-local CDN.

Close