31 years after the Internet’s launch, how CDNs changed business forever

Thirty-one years ago, the Internet was launched, completely changing the course of human history and, most substantially, the business world. August 23 marks Internaut Day, the day on which the world wide web protocol was made available to the general public. 

The Internet we know today is far different, and advanced, from the Internet of the early- and mid-90s. It’s easy to forget that during the early days of the internet, people had to wait 30 whole seconds to even get a connection and to load a website on a massive desktop—and this was just to load text, before the advent of images and videos on the web. Contrast that with the Internet now, where you can message three separate group chats, order food, and buy Bitcoin in a small fraction of seconds. 

Today there are around 5 billion Internet users globally interacting with more than a billion websites and applications transmitting data and content to every corner of the planet. We take for granted the relatively low-latency connectivity on a daily basis, but there are a couple of important and overlooked parts of the Internet’s infrastructure that make this possible: content distribution networks (CDNs) and edge computing.

Both CDNs and edge computing play irreplaceable roles in our professional and personal lives. But what exactly do they do, and why are they so important in today’s business environment? 

What are CDNs?

The role of CDNs can be found in their name—they are networks delivering content to end users. But this doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

The first generation of CDNs launched more than two decades ago and were designed to enhance and improve the Internet’s performance as it became a more widely used medium. Since their debut in the late 90’s, CDNs have expanded greatly to facilitate access to a massive chunk of the Internet’s content, including text, graphics, scripts, and downloadable files and applications. CDNs have played a key role in the immense growth we have seen in the past decades.

Technically speaking, a CDN is a network of servers scattered around the globe distributing content from the original server by caching, or storing, it as close as possible to the end user accessing the Internet. The closer the content is cached to the end user, the shorter the travel distance is, reducing latency and decreasing the workload for the original server. Additionally, CDNs play a crucial security role by proxying all requests to the backend infrastructure protecting it from malicious actors, therefore ensuring availability and resiliency.

What are Edge Computing servers?

Ultimately CDNs and edge computing both share similar goals—to enable a faster and more efficient Internet experience. But while CDNs strategically place servers to facilitate quicker access to cached data while also protecting backend servers and infrastructure, edge computing helps organizations distribute their intelligence and business logic closer to the end user and perform many types of computing, including live streaming, gaming, AI, and more. Simply put, edge servers place processing power, software services, and data as close to the end users as possible. 

For example, edge computing is extremely crucial in high-frequency trading in the finance industry, where even minimal degrees of latency can cost investors up to $5 billion a year. Financial institutions are beholden to edge computing to facilitate and manage high volumes of real-time trading. 

Of course, this is just one of an endless list of ways that edge computing—as well as CDNs—impacts businesses and organizations. 

Meeting the growing demand for business content and solutions

Since CDNs and edge computing have a similar mission, many like to refer to edge computing servers (or severless logic) as a newer iteration of CDNs. While there is some overlap in their functionality, both perform important functions that the other can’t, and when paired together they allow for an unlimited amount of use cases from everything from autonomous vehicles to VR gaming.  

Regardless of how they function individually, both are needed to meet the growing demand for business logic and solutions in today’s digital age. 

Whether it’s a restaurant leveraging social media information to produce engaging content for marketing purposes or a family doctor providing digital health files and telemedicine services, having the right technology solutions directly affects revenues. And CDNs and edge servers are the unsung heroes laboring behind the scenes enabling any given business to not only stay competitive but ahead of the competition. 

For businesses and organizations, access to the best technology solutions and tools ensure operations are conducted as efficiently as possible. Website delays of only 100 milliseconds can harm conversion rates by 7 percent. For an e-commerce platform this contributes to cart abandonment, which leads to an estimated loss of $18 billion in revenues each year

Ecommerce platforms must deploy edge computing servers and CDNs to offer online customers a pain-free and fast user experience. This is an absolute necessity with the recent dramatic increase in online shopping over the last few years.  

CDNs and edge computing offer many benefits that enable an organization’s business logic to operate at the most competitive rhythm. In addition to helping improve a website’s performance, they also both contribute to a reduction in bandwidth costs—saving exclusively-online businesses resources while increasing business security. Furthermore they increase content and application availability and performance, provide valuable business insights into a website’s performance, and expand what users can accomplish over the network. 

In appreciation of Internaut Day and with respect for the way the Internet has improved business operations, it is worth taking the time to invest in understanding just how crucial CDNs and edge computing are in our lives. So next time you are streaming Netflix or hosting a client call through Zoom, remember to be grateful for CDNs and edge computing.

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