Accelerate Your Business with Azure Content Delivery Network

Azure Content Delivery Network (Azure CDN) loads your website’s content quickly and efficiently to users all over the globe, markedly improving your site’s performance while helping you achieve global reach. CDNs are already well-known for their capacity to quickly deliver local, cached versions of your static content to users anywhere on the globe at only pennies per gigabyte. However, Azure CDN expands on this proven approach to encompass an exceptionally broad range of content types, while letting you choose from the two leading CDN providers to distribute your content: Verizon and Akamai. Moreover, Azure CDN offers a pay-per-use pricing approach that requires no commitments to either provider, allowing you to explore both to find the best match. Despite the service’s highly advanced feature set, you can setup Azure CDN is just minutes through the Azure portal. If you want to take the service to a still higher level, you now have the option of adding Azure Dynamic Site Acceleration (DSA) to markedly improve loading times for your dynamic content as well.

Understanding CDNs

A content delivery network (CDN), also referred to as a content distribution network, is a service that helps your site’s static content, such as pictures and videos, load faster, anywhere on the globe. CDNs accomplish this feat by caching your static content across a global network of servers, or nodes. Users in a given region will almost always be closer to one of the CDN’s nodes than they will be to your origin server. Therefore, the CDN’s locally cached versions of your static content will load faster on nearby users’ devices. The end result for your site is improved performance, increased availability/responsiveness, lighter server loads, and the capacity to scale with global reach. Given the benefits, many site owners find CDNs more than affordable with rates generally ranging in the pennies per gigabyte.

Azure CDN

Azure CDN expands upon the functionality and benefits of a conventional CDN. Not only does Azure CDN cache pictures and other media files, but query strings, firmware updates, IoT endpoints and software files. Furthermore, with cloud-security certified by FedRAMP’s Joint Authorization Board, Azure offers generous protection against DDoS attacks and other threats. Designed to accommodate unpredictable traffic spikes and sustained periods of heavy traffic, Azure CDN can also lend more stability and predictability to your site. Under a flexible, zero-commitment, pay-per-use pricing structure, Azure CDN lets you choose from the two largest CDN providers: Verizon and Akamai. Finally, a wealth of APIs and developer resources will help your dev-team take Azure CDN to new heights with custom applications.

There are two primary steps you’ll need to take to get started with Azure CDN: setting up a CDN profile, and adding a CDN endpoint.

Setting up a CDN profile

To setup a CDN profile, simply sign in to your current Azure account, or sign up for a new account. Once you’re signed into the Azure portal, navigate to New Web + Mobile > CDN. A blade will appear with a few required fields and steps to complete your CDN profile:

  1. Give your CDN profile a name.
  2. Choose an Azure subscription.
  3. Select or create a resource group.
  4. Choose a resource group location.
  5. Choose a pricing tier.
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You can also pin the CDN profile to your Azure dashboard, and add automation to your profile. However, these features are optional.

Once you’re ready, click Create, and the system will generate your CDN profile immediately.

Creating a CDN endpoint

Once you’ve created a CDN profile, your next step is to create a CDN endpoint. If you’ve pinned your CDN profile to your Azure dashboard, simply click on it. If not, click Browse > CDN profiles, then click on your newly created profile. Once your CDN profile’s blade appears, click the Add endpoint link in the main menu. This will lead you to the Add-an-endpoint blade, where you will need to complete the following fields:

  • Name
  • Origin type
  • Origin hostname
  • Origin path
  • Origin host header
  • Protocol and Origin Port
  • Optimized for

Name

The Name field provides the unique portion of the domain name for your cached content, according to the following format (where you will replace “example” with your chosen name)

example.azureedge.net

Origin type

Next, you will need to choose from one of four choices for your Origin type (Storage, Cloud service, Web app, Custom origin), which will classify the origin server where the static content originates that you wish to have cached by Azure CDN. Note that Storage refers to an Azure Storage accountCloud service refers to an Azure Cloud ServiceWeb app refers to an Azure Web application; and Custom origin refers to a live web server that needs to be public, but does not need to be hosted by Azure.

Origin hostname

Once you’ve selected an Origin type (and entered its domain if you chose Custom origin), you will need to select or enter the Origin hostname.

Origin path

Next, enter the file path to the static content you wish to have cached. Alternatively, you can leave the path field blank to have Azure CDN cache all the public, static content it finds at the domain you specified for Origin hostname.

Origin host header

For the next field, Origin host header, you’ll need to leave the default (which matches the Origin hostname) in place if you chose Azure Storage or Web Apps for Origin type. Otherwise, you should only enter a unique host header here if your origin requires that the Origin host header differs from the Origin hostname.

Protocol and Origin port

The next two fields, Protocol (HTTP, HTTPS) and Origin port also have defaults in place. HTTP defaults to enabled, accessible through origin port 80; and HTTPS defaults to enabled, accessible through origin port 443. See Azure’s recommendations on when to keep these defaults and when to change them.

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Optimize for (NEW)

This brand new field reflects the Azure team’s recent addition of a new, powerful option to the Azure CDN feature suite. While Azure CDN was already a state-of-the-art solution for caching and delivering static content locally, at least one lingering problem remained: how to achieve better performance when delivering dynamic content that cannot be cached, such as online shopping carts. Dynamic Site Acceleration (DSA) is Azure’s answer to this problem. To understand how DSA works, it’s important to understand that dynamic-content requests need to travel all the way back to the origin server, a process that generally takes place through the open Internet. However, CDN providers, such as Verizon and Akamai, have their own, often faster, private connections. By allowing requests for dynamic content to travel back to the origin server along the fastest available path (whether on the open Internet or through a CDN provider’s connection), DSA can now accelerate the loading of dynamic content. The DSA service simply tests all available paths, then chooses the fastest.

To use this new service, select Dynamic site acceleration from the “Optimize for” drop-down menu. For testing purposes, you will need to enter a Probe path to content on your origin server with a file size of roughly 10 KB.

Note: DSA comes at an additional cost that follows a different pricing structure than the standalone Azure CDN service. You can find pricing details for DSA in the Acceleration Data Transfers section of the Azure CDN pricing page.

Register your new endpoint

Having completed all the fields above, click Add at the bottom of the blade to register your new endpoint. Depending on whether you have selected Akamai or Verizon as your CDN provider, your new endpoint registration could take anywhere from a few seconds to a couple hours to fully propagate.

Accelerate your site and extend your reach with Azure CDN

In order to boost your site performance while helping you achieve global reach, Azure CDN delivers your content to users across the globe in the fastest and most efficient fashion possible. As outlined above, CDNs provide faster page-loading times by delivering cached versions of your static content from servers that are as near as possible to your users. Azure CDN expands on this proven approach with a highly flexible, pay-per-use pricing structure that allows you to plug into either of the two leading CDN providers (Verizon and Akamai) to distribute your content, whether it’s media files, query strings, firmware updates, IoT endpoints, downloadable software, or all of the above. With a new or existing Azure account, you can get started with Azure CDN in just minutes. And with Azure’s recent introduction of Azure Dynamic Site Acceleration, you now have the option to improve loading times for your dynamic content as well.

To learn more about leveraging Azure services to grow your online business, contact us.

About Paul William

Throughout my career, I have been a contributor for several tech-companies as a technical writer. I have also written business plans, product development roadmaps and dozens of online newsletters. In terms of my writing strengths, my strongest categories are IT, startups, science and real estate. I bring a wealth of knowledge around technology, the cloud and IT and I enjoy writing about these topics.