Lockdowns and the renewed promise of CDNs

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(By Manoj Bubna)

As the world responds to the COVID-19 outbreak, the reliance on digital services has increased drastically. Businesses and consumers around the world are adjusting aspects of their daily lives to incorporate virtual services and the internet is being used at a scale the world has never experienced leading to surges in usage for teleconferencing apps like Zoom, Houseparty, Slack etc. A vast amount of commerce, including retail, healthcare and hospitality is also leveraging the internet to stay connected with consumers during the lockdown.

According to a Cisco Annual Internet Report, globally, the total number of Internet users is projected to grow from 3.9 billion in 2018 to 5.3 billion by 2023. The phenomenal growth in mobile end-user devices is bringing together people, processes, data, and things to make networked connections and businesses stay relevant and valuable. India has a massive disparity in the usage of devices and network connections. Considering the discrepancy across devices – from mobile to tablets, iPhones to feature phones and networks – with users in 2G network browsing alongside users in 4G networks, it’s important to realize that India’s internet population has varied consumption patterns. This also puts a strain on websites because they need to cater to users from different networks and devices without compromising on the web experience at any stage.

However, in catering to increased traffic, there are fundamentals that need to remain in place. One is forced to wonder if the resilience of the infrastructure can keep up with an uptick in demand. A Content Delivery Network among other features also caches static data and thereby reduces pressure on business servers provide the scale as well as reduces the size of the end result. Business infrastructures are “designed to cope with the peak” of web traffic, the stress is mostly on the aggregation networks, where demand may be reaching maximum capacity. So far – networks appear to be meeting those demands, but they were designed to grow that much in a year, not in days. Domains like OTT, retail, healthcare which are under more pressure than others are worried if they should slow down certain web services or prioritize specific types of traffic. The lockdown has brought additional terabyte-levels of traffic volumes. It’s evident that businesses need access to real-time and granular information about the usage pattern and data flow. CDNs are inherently designed to manage large volumes of traffic without compromising on the experience or security, while mitigating and minimizing network congestion. Thanks to the edge and peering links of Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) which have enough headroom.

Some CDNs even offer code optimization on the fly which is particularly vital to performance for any business catering to traffic being generated by users across device types and networks. On average, a retailer generates 40-50 third party requests per page requests. In that respect, on every single webpage there are 50-60 third party scripts. However, one can’t dismiss the dependency of retailer websites on these third party platforms, collectively, they make the user experience slow. A CDN acts as a traffic signal, a third-party tunneling module which can manage third-party requests better. Users experience psychological and physiological effects when interacting with web pages, experiencing frustration when not completing tasks and engagement at faster web sites, thus impacting web traffic and revenues. CDNs not only increase the speed of the website, improve your conversion rates but also make sites more appealing to users.

With the global workforce mobilizing to a virtual work environment in a Covid-19 world, threat landscapes are also evolving continuously for businesses. Enterprises and businesses traditionally resort to VPNs to eliminate the risk of security breach in a more castle and moat method where the security is like a castle for outsider and moat to internal guys. CDN unlike VPN, integrates greater security and is easier to manage and monitor and follows a zero trust model. In a world where online security has been paramount for a while, businesses can’t afford to compromise on security for two reasons- the risk of losing a captive organic user base and reputation. CDNs are also particularly useful in the context of cybersecurity as they allow for businesses to not re-architecture code or go on any down time that could make users seek alternatives.

The impact of COVID-19 on the performance and quality of global mobile and broadband internet networks has been notable. Speedtest Global Index indicates that mean download speed on both mobile and fixed broadband has decreased in India since March, 2020. While we continue to see a degradation in internet speed at a global level, it’s time to put forth technology solutions whether it’s enabling people to interact with one another no matter how far apart, or allowing for the massive flow of data. As organizations develop solutions to stem the outbreak and even possibly cure COVID-19, what is emerging is how vital CDNs are to organizations and their users around the world in these challenging times. Some of the CDN players are also adding other functions like Real User Monitoring (RUM) and Application Performance Monitoring (APM) to give the insights on the performance for a User and that of the application.  Few have gone as far as adding User Experience Modules that does predictive caching and/or have recommendation engines creating a complete digital experience platform.

In these unprecedented times, choosing the right CDN for your digital offering may prove to be the critical differentiation, after all, are you not likely to build loyalty with companies that provided better service under challenging conditions?

(The author is the CEO and Co-Founder, Nitrogen)


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