Who’s the Target Audience For a CDN, Anyway?

CDNs are fun, and in a very real sense vital to the conventional functioning of the World Wide Web. It used to be, though, that CDNs – specialty hosting services designed to deliver high-volume web (or streaming media) traffic – were exclusively the domain of really big companies – Top-500 websites, and that sort of thing.

Not for any real good technical reasons, mind, but because the prices tended to start, if you were lucky, at a couple hundred bucks a month, which put them beyond the reach of the little people.

Recently, that’s begun to change…

Nowadays, there are lots of companies offering “pay-as-you-go” CDN services with no meaningful minimum traffic requirement. Some examples include:

Speedyrails‘ CDN;
GoGrid‘s CDN;
Softlayer‘s CDN;

…and Amazon, and probably a few others.

I’m not sure what’s driven this segment of the market – maybe it’s a cutthroat realization that the giant traffic-hungry website of tomorrow is the modest-sized website of today; maybe it’s just long-tail economics ($10 per month from 200 small customers is just as good as $2,000 per month from one customer) at work. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s never been easier for the little guy to reap the benefits of a CDN.

What I also know is that pretty much none of these folks seem to be making a serious effort to target, you know, Mr. or Mrs. Blogger, your laughably average website owner. The whole field is full of confusing and proprietary jargon that is rarely explained in idiot-friendly terms. “Origin Pull”? “Mirror Bucket”? Eh? I know what these things mean, because I’m a geek, but your average, say, foodblogger, or photoblogger, or whatever? (People who, in many cases, would really benefit from a CDN, by the way.) Not so much so.

This leads me to be believe that the target audience for CDNs – pay-as-you-go ones anyway – is, basically, geeks. Yet here again the CDN providers seem to be coming up short, in terms of promoting – or at least conveying – the strengths of their services. CDN bandwidth costs for very small commitments run from $0.10 USD to $0.39 USD (ten to thirty-nine U.S. cents) per gigabyte at the various services I linked to above, with most right around $0.20 USD/GB. Look at the case of a hypothetical photoblogger whose $15/mo VPS is having a hard time coping with the ever-increasing traffic – say now 5GB/day. A CDN could solve their problems, and scale with them as traffic grew. But at $0.20/GB, that’s around $30/month for the CDN traffic. For that money, you could get another VPS, or two, or three, and do your own offloading, cacheing, or load-balancing.

You need to be a bit of a geek to do that, I admit – but no more of a geek than you need to be to understand half the text on most CDN providers’ websites.

To be fair, a CDN will (probably) scale better than a cluster of inexpensive virtual machines, and will (probably) deliver a better/faster experience for the end-user or visitor. And you won’t have to dick around with server updates and load-balancing and DNS and… yeah.

When you’re talking about 200, 300 gigabytes of traffic, or less, there’s generally nothing really hard or magical about handling it. (A couple hundred gigabytes can be two or three bucks a month.) Yet none of the pay-as-you-go CDNs seem to be promoting their less-tangible benefits; there’s no mention of “it just works, with no administration on your end”, or whatever. Just lots of technical gobblygook and dubious statistical figures aimed at gullible e-commerce operators and SEO goons.

So, CDNs of the world: Please figure out who your target audiences are, and make a better effort to reach them. This whole for-the-masses pricing just seems incongruous with the almost-glossolalia character of your websites.

(Irritating footnotes: I’m not affiliated with any of these businesses, except as a customer of MaxCDN (which powers the website for my novel), about whom I have no complaints whatsoever. I’m also playing around with, on another website, CloudFlare, a free CDN-with-benefits whose website mostly ignores the CDN side of things, for reasons I cannot fathom. They seem pretty good so far, but IMO it’s too early to reach a conclusion yet. This site – Entropic Memes – doesn’t use a CDN, and probably won’t, as the three main servers seem to be having no problems handling the existing traffic, and I’m losing enough money already without shelling out even more on a CDN.)

Published in: Geekiness, General | on October 25th, 2010| 2 Comments »

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  1. On 10/26/2010 at 6:01 pm Nemo Said:

    For completeness’ sake, Cachecentric is another interesting-looking pay-as-you-go CDN service, albeit one for whom almost literally no reviews exist. Assuming they’re being honest about their points of presence, they’re not just reselling someone else’s CDN service, either, as their presence doesn’t match anyone else’s, that I could find.

  2. On 1/10/2012 at 1:58 pm Jerold Gamarra Said:

    I would like to chat with you. Not to sell, pick your brain if I may.

    Jerold Gamarra
    407 215 9181