CDNs and the online holiday shopping season

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CacheFly Team

Date Posted:

November 26, 2013

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The holiday shopping season is quickly approaching, and while brick-and-mortar stores have traditionally been the most closely connected with it, online sales have undergone tremendous growth over the past several years.

As the demand for online purchases swells this time of the year, issues with the physical networks behind these electronic storefronts grow as well. During such a great opportunity for bolstered sales, companies must take proper precautions to ensure their e-commerce websites can shoulder the increased demand.

Holiday traffic

In the past two years, online holiday shopping has steadily increased. According to, online sales in November and December (a period that includes Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday) have nearly been double that of the rest of the year’s averages.

All those eager clicks can bring even the most powerful servers to their knees and frustrate potential customers with slow performance. Problems managing peak usage times are often compounded by the long travel time of packets when servers aren’t located in geographically diverse locations.

Distributing the workload

Contrary to popular belief, merely throwing raw horsepower and resources at servers that are buckling under heavy traffic loads isn’t the best solution. Increased bandwidth and faster hardware can certainly help the situation, but the underlying issues remain. Issues of inefficient traffic management can usually be placed into two main categories: speed and congestion.

The geographic location of servers can make or break server latency when client connections are established from widespread locations. A CDN solution can greatly decrease latency by serving up responses from servers located physically close to users. This is accomplished by distributing resources across regions with strategically placed PoPs (points of presence). Client requests for a particular Web resource are dynamically allocated to the nearest PoP, which can have dramatic effects on latency.

Breaking up the bottleneck

Spreading website traffic over multiple geographically diverse locations not only closes the gap between client and server with increased speed, but also helps solve the issue of congestion. Modern CDNs have become intelligent enough to take server load into account when determining the best possible destination for site traffic.

As an example, an e-commerce website with a heavy demographic in the Southeast region of the United States would likely experience considerably more traffic on nodes located in that region. In this case, routing traffic to the geographically closest node may not actually be the ideal scenario. While nodes in the Northeast region may be further away, their relatively light server load may provide a faster response time thanks to decreased congestion.

Cache and compression

Distributing the increased traffic generated by the holiday shopping season is a great way to avoid performance issues related to congested bandwidth and the long travel time of packets. There remains, however, another way in which CDNs can make an impact on your site’s speed this season: Intelligent caching of common resources coupled with compression of transfers means decreased bandwidth usage, faster performance, and decreased cost.

CDN caching technology allows for flexible management of cached resources on client browsers, leading to fewer HTTP requests and downloads. In addition to locally cached files, using compression of data that travels through the Internet shaves time off file requests and saves money on bandwidth usage. These two factors, when combined, can protect and even increase the performance of a website under heavy holiday load.

Mobile trends

Today’s CDN solutions can clearly be relied upon to sustain heavy loads of holiday shopping traffic, but let’s not stop at traditional desktop browsing. According to, mobile Web traffic at a global level now accounts for more than 17 percent of overall Web usage, so you can bet a good portion of your company’s holiday traffic will be initiated from a mobile device.

This mobile sector provides a unique opportunity for CDN-based improvement during the holiday shopping season. Mobile data speeds are routinely lagging behind their tethered counterparts and, as such, can benefit from even the slightest speed increase. Enter CDNs, a technology poised to help the naturally diverse geographic nature of mobile shopping. Though much of the latency associated with mobile data lies in the often congested connection that mobile devices use, websites that harness the benefits discussed above via CDNs can still trim precious lag time and offer a better user experience.

It’s all about the user experience

As the holidays approach, the customary increase of Web traffic that comes with them showcases the need for e-commerce sites to strengthen their infrastructure in order to handle the demand. CDN services not only offer a complete solution to shoulder the heavy traffic, but improve speed while decreasing relative bandwidth usage. With plenty of options for online shoppers, services that have a positive effect on all areas of content traffic are of utmost importance when every advantage counts at the point of sale.

Image source: Flickr

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