At one point in time, traditional web hosting ruled the land. Thanks to an abundance of different hosting companies, which housed websites of various sizes, this kind of hosting served the needs of most companies. Of course, as we all know, the Internet is constantly changing, and today has evolved into a massive archive that houses and delivers personal, corporate, and multimedia content. And since our needs have changed, the Internet’s capacity has been forced to change, simply from a standpoint of meeting the demands of modern websites. Today, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) have taken over market share from traditional web hosting solutions for a variety of reasons.
Before we get into the pros and cons of CDN and traditional web hosting, let’s talk about the key differences between the two.
CDNs and Traditional Website Hosting: A Breakdown
Standard web hosting solutions are used to host websites on a server; users, obviously, access it over the Internet. However, a content delivery network is more about expediency; it has the capability of accelerating the access/delivery of a website’s content to those users.
Another key difference between the two is the number of servers utilized. Traditional web hosting relies on one server, while a CDN leverages a worldwide network of edge servers that disseminate content from a variety of interconnected hosts.
The last difference is in the amount of content each option delivers. With traditional web hosting, 100% of the website’s content is distributed to the user. Keep in mind that if the server is located on the other side of the world, the user has to wait for the data to be retrieved from that location. Though a CDN doesn’t deliver 100% of the content, it does deliver a majority of it (whether that content is static or dynamic), offering it from across the globe. This dramatically reduces download times—and the closer the CDN server is to the web visitor, the faster the content will download.
CDNs and Traditional Website Hosting: Pros and Cons
In some ways, it seems obvious that CDNs are built for contemporary Internet usage. As you’ll see below, it comes out ahead in many cases. If you have a basic website, the difference is probably negligible, but as always your company’s specific needs will dictate which option offers the best solution. Here are a just few advantages and disadvantages to consider:
Performance: Since a CDN typically leverages multiple networks, it has the potential to offer 100% availability as it pertains to content delivery. However, you’re banking on the nature and configuration of the networks, which always has the potential to impact performance. When you use a dedicated server, it has one job, and one job only: to serve your website. But when you factor in a CDN’s ability to scale up for traffic spikes, improve SEO, and allay DDoS attacks on edge servers, it’s a better bet.
Reliability: Like with any product, the reliability of CDNs will vary from provider to provider, but the automatic redundancy between edge servers is a plus. With proper due diligence, finding one that meets your demands shouldn’t be a problem. A dedicated server, however, will be more customized, since the web host will build it to meet your specific needs.
Admin: In most cases, having your own dedicated server via traditional web hosting does mean more admin on your part—though some hosts offer management services, too. Ultimately, for individuals and companies handling everything on their own, a CDN will usually be more low-maintenance.
Cost: A standard CDN is normally going to be less expensive than utilizing a committed server. However, the amount of traffic your site receives dictates what works best. If you have a high-traffic site, a dedicated server can end up costing less over the long run.
Support: With a dedicated server, getting in touch with the support desk for a resolution to a problem is an email or phone call away, depending on the provider’s customer service standards. The very nature of a CDN—remember, it’s a global network of edge servers—means chasing down help might prove more difficult.
CDN Hosting vs. Traditional Website Hosting: The Verdict
While some of the advantages and disadvantages outlined above may make it seem like it’s an even race between CDNs and traditional website hosts, we typically find that businesses benefit from utilizing a CDN. When comparing costs, our clients’ ears often perk up, just because of the cost-savings potential. Another mark against traditional website hosting is its redundancy due to increased demand for viewing, downloading, and streaming large files.
That brings us to a CDN’s biggest advantage: speed. For businesses big and small, swift content delivery is crucial, and thanks to servers strategically placed around the world, CDNs offer a faster user experience for your customers, all while decreasing telecommunications costs, too. While you can weigh some of the pros and cons listed above from a pure business standpoint, it’s always important to factor in how it affects your customers. And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s probably this: online visitors definitely have an unrelenting need for speed that gets harder and harder to satisfy as the Internet evolves.
William McKee is a founding partner of Knowmad. As a Web architect & Internet business consultant, he is passionate about applying business knowledge & technical expertise to deliver solutions that advance business online. With over 15 years of Web experience, his current work involves designing strategies and creating processes to help business attract, engage and convert website visitors into customers.