The online world has changed dramatically over its brief life. According to an interesting article provided by LiveScience.com, there were only 600 or so websites in 1993, and the first video and audio files were distributed online just one year earlier. The first search engines did not appear until 1998, but most homes still had dial-up connections utilizing modems with a maximum speed of 56 kilobits per second. The 21st century introduced American consumers to high-speed internet connections, and by 2017, according to Statista, the average connection speed was almost 19 Mbps. Today, websites and users each number in the billions. Delivering so much content to so many users would be an onerous burden without content delivery networks.
The Birth of CDNs
The first commercial CDN service appeared around the same time as the first search engines and the first forays into audio and video streaming. Early CDNs were primarily focused on enhancing the performance of sites by reducing loading times. Even in the days of dial-up connections, users had an intense dislike of sites that were slow to load. Perhaps the only thing they disliked more was finding that the site was unable to deliver the desired content, so ensuring availability quickly became a secondary focus for CDNs. However, early CDNs were quite expensive, placing them beyond the reach of many small ISPs and enterprises.
The Current Generation of CDNs
As the United States moved into the 21st century, technology began to advance at an incredibly brisk pace. High-speed Ethernet connections soon gave way to a rise in wireless connections. Online services for streaming movies became increasingly popular. Mobile users found fewer reasons to need desktop computers. Banking, shopping, consumer research, real estate listings, job searches, education and video games are just a few of the things that users found faster and easier to complete or review online.
Unfortunately, many criminals and activists also found that the internet facilitated their work. Denial of service attacks became more common, and these attacks can be particularly devastating to for-profit enterprises. Sales grind to a halt, and customer satisfaction can reach a new low. Therefore, although current CDNs still offer enhanced performance and availability, they have added functionality to secure access to CDN content through authentication and hotlink protection. In addition, by distributing loads across various CDN servers, the origin website is protected from denial of service attacks.
In today’s world, consumers have become accustomed to having instant responses when flipping between websites. Faster websites tend to provide better user experiences, which will typically increase the site’s conversion rates. Furthermore, faster websites are ranked higher by the search engines. The current generation of CDNs can help accelerate loading speeds, protect against cyberattacks, improve site rankings, ensure availability, and do it all for less money than the first generation CDNs.
CDN developers are preparing for the future in a variety of ways. Obviously, they are preparing for a massive number of new users in both developed and developing nations by increasing the number of points of presence. They are seeking to improve the scalability and storage of dynamic content, and they are continuing to enhance mobile content delivery. Developers will continue to make it easier to integrate their CDN service with cloud-based services, including BPaaS, SaaS and IaaS. However, some of the changes to CDNs will encompass relatively recent technologies.
For example, future CDNs will likely leverage the power of artificial intelligence and predictive analysis. By analyzing historical data, a CDN will be able to predict where and when the demand for particular types of content will occur. Predictive analysis can also help CDNs predict where and when mobile users will be most likely to access content. Instead of waiting for a request, users can be offered relevant, personalized content that is already cached on their nearest CDN servers.
Cybersecurity will increase in importance for CDN developers. New threats seem to emerge daily, and although CDNs can block many types of attacks, developers will continue to watch for new methods to circumvent load balancing, redundancy and integrated firewalls.
In short, as files become larger, media becomes richer, and users become more numerous, CDNs will need to adapt. So far, developers have done an excellent job of improving quality while lowering costs. There is no reason to expect that the next generation of CDNs will not continue the trend.