A Look at the Incapsula Product (CDN: Performance and Security)

Many times when we start our blog (or website) we don’t see a need for a content delivery network (a.k.a. CDN). In fact, it is not surprising that we wouldn’t know what a CDN is, when we first get started.

What is a CDN and How Do I Know When Someone Is Using It?

First, let’s get a mental picture of what a CDN is. A CDN helps to balance the load, when it comes to media file serving. Or, at least, that is one function of what a CDN does for you.

You see, when you visit a web site, you are asking the server (that hosts the web site) to deliver the web page, and all of the media files that are associated with that web page. There may also be some other components on the page and it may take time for those components (possibly connected to other sites) to load on that page.

All of this adds up to an increased load time. Where the CDN comes in to help is to serve up those images and media files so that it isn’t an extra load on your web server. That way, your web server can concentrate on loading the text of your web page (or database-driven web site).

Let’s look at an image on Dragonblogger, taken from this article: The Many Benefits of Wearable Gadgets:

Dragonblogger Image

Do you see how the image URL (web address) starts with dragonblogger.com? In this case, the image is serving off of the dragonblogger.com site.

Now, let’s take a look at an image on Mashable, taken from this article: Fill your frame with your favorite things for this week’s Instagram challenge

CDN Image Example

Do you see how the image URL (web address) starts with http://rack.1.mshcdn.com? In this case, the image is serving off of Mashable’s CDN, to help with that load balancing and performance. (Note: The image is a bit different, in this article, to protect copyrights. The key issue that we are looking at is the URL/web address.)

Looking at the URL (web address) is one of the most visual ways to demonstrate when a CDN is in place, to right-click on the image and open it in a new tab (or new browser window) and look at the URL.

Do I Need a CDN? If So, Why?

Yes and no. Many people survive quite well without a CDN. I don’t use a CDN currently (though I’m considering it). Also, as you noticed, it does not appear that dragonblogger does. That is ok. Many people consider the cost of the CDN and balance it with the income from the blog or web site. It is all about the ROI (return on investment) and the right choice is up to that person.

However, if performance is the most important thing in your life (more important than eating), then you will likely want to consider a CDN. Also, if you site is getting slammed with traffic and is becoming so slow that people are leaving your site (supported by a high ‘bounce rate’ in your analytics), then it might be time to consider a CDN. It is all about performance at that point. Based on that, it is understandable why Mashable set up a CDN. Look at their social shares level and it is easy to see that they have a need for a CDN.

It Isn’t Just about Performance. It is About Security, too.

We have only been speaking about how CDNs help with the performance. There is also the security aspect and protecting yourself against DDOS attacks. Here are a few articles where you can read more about that (including some great articles from Dragonblogger!), in the context of the company that we are discussing, Incapsula:

Incapsula is one of many CDN providers. It is a security company for your business when you want to keep out the undesirables who may do harm to your site (see the links, above, on security).

Incapsula, our Example CDN Provider

Note: This discussion is based on the information that is available on the Incapsula site, so there may be some limitations. However, there have been extensive case studies and research that is available and that is what we are examining in more depth.

The content delivery network provided by Incapsula is described as safer than anything else you could use, and you will be able to set up a site that you can have some level of surety that it will be safe for you and your customers.

You need to take many steps to make sure that you are protecting yourself, and these steps are going to be much easier to take if you simply put in the time that is needed to make your website safe. That can sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo and confusing, but that is where you need a reliable company, like Incapsula, to walk you through the process.

According to their site, the Incapsula team is creates the best kind of website and security detail for you, based on your needs. However, in order to do that, you need to tell them what you want from the site itself. Likely you have ideas about what you should do. This is the time to communicate it to the team at Incapsula so that they have all of the information that they need to meet your requirements.

Every CDN is a little bit different, and you will be able to enjoy the safety of the site knowing that you put in the time to make it the best place for you and your customers to visit.

You have to remember that Incapsula is going to make decisions about how your site is protected based on what you tell them, and you will receive what they have been told to give you. You are free to change your mind, but you must make sure keep them informed, so that they can deliver the best for you. Every site is a little bit different, and you will get amazing results if you are willing to provide the details that a company like Incapsula needs.

Hint: Check out the dragonblogger articles for more information on configuration and getting started.

All of this that I have just described, as well as more details about CDN functionality and benefits, can be explained in Incapsula’s CDN Guide.

Now for Some Stats, to Help Put this Into Context

First, let’s look at security…

Incapsula Graph

If you look at the grey line, you can see the traffic that made it to the site. The green indicates the traffic that was served up cached content (that is a good thing and we will talk about that in the next section). The red color indicates the traffic that was blocked, and for good reason. Do you see how much was saved, as far as traffic to your site? You can see that the load on the site was minimal (look at the grey color). This is an indicator that the site performed well because it was not overloaded. From a security perspective, you can see that the “bad traffic” was blocked. The site was protected (security) and optimized (performance).

This is where you can see how your site may be able to perform better because of the caching mechanism and the blocking of the “bad traffic.”

I promised you that we would talk about caching. Remember how we mentioned the images being served up from another source, to take the load off of the original server? Well, in the same way, the actual site content can be cached on other servers, provided by the CDN, in order to alleviate that pressure on the original server. Think about it. It isn’t like you change every word on your site, on every page. In this way, the CDN process caches your site so that it can be maximized in performance. This will mean faster load times and hopefully lower bounce rates.

Conclusion

The CDN providers, like the example we used, with Incapsula, allow for optimal delivery of your site (performance), as well as protection for your site (security). These are the two selling points that Incapsula mentions from their home page. It is worth considering. At the end of the day, the choice is yours and you need to evaluate your own ROI (return on investment) and decide what is right for you. In making that decision, it helps to have some information ahead of time so that you can continue your quest, armed with knowledge.

Deborah Anderson
Deborah wears many hats, from professional sound engineer, to marrying a professional sound engineer and recording a Jazz album that put her and kept her on the RN Jazz charts in Los Angeles, for a year. From that experience, she learned how to make it work with social media marketing. She traded in her position as Chief Technology Officer in the financial industry to help small businesses to realize their success online.
Deborah Anderson
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