Edge Computing
26 Aug 2019

Why You Should Be Using a CDN for Your API

APIs are a fundamental component of modern websites and online solutions. Many of the apps on your mobile phone and sites you visit in your web browser, leverage Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to increase the functionality of the service they offer. From weather forecasts and traffic updates to embedded social media feeds and identity management, APIs are a vital feature element in countless online solutions. However, due to their pivotal role, a poorly configured API can have a detrimental impact on a site or service, adversely affecting its performance and the experience of its users.

A CDN Reduces API Latency

Like general web traffic, APIs leverage the HTTP and HTTPS protocols to facilitate the transmission of information between the service and the end-user. The fundamental architecture of a standard API utilizes a GET request that connects to a predefined API endpoint linked to a backend service. The service then queries a database for information which is then sent back to the originating client via the same channel. However, if there is any latency during this process, the result is a delayed response and poor user experience.

APIs, like websites, offer better performance, the closer the end-user client is to the API service. Since latency is a significant factor affecting the perceived speed of a service, locating the API as close to the end-user as possible reduces load times and enhances the user experience significantly.

Latency can also affect the overall performance of a website or service that leverages a particular API to enhance its functionality. The stateless nature of the HTTP protocol requires a web browser to load the various elements that make up a web page sequentially. Text, images, stylesheets, JavaScript files, and API calls all need to load to present the user with a fully functioning service. If there is a delay affecting even one of these elements, the site visitor needs to wait until all components render completely. Since users abandon sites that do not load within a few seconds, site operators must implement measures to ensure their pages load rapidly and efficiently.

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) can help improve the page load speeds and overall performance of online sites and services. By storing a cached copy of the site elements across a globally distributed network of nodes, they help improve the end-user experience. Providing a copy of the content reduces latency considerably as the user’s client does not need to contact the originating server every time. If the API endpoint is located in a remote geographic region, a CDN can reduce the time taken to load a page or render the data from an API substantially.

Improved API Availability

As both business and society increasingly rely on online sites and services, providers need to build resilience into their platforms to ensure the availability of their solutions. Even a few minutes of downtime can result in lost revenue and reputational harm to an organization’s brand. Since APIs deliver the core functionality to many apps and interactive websites, ensuring an API’s availability is vital.

Creating a high-availability platform for your API infrastructure typically involves building redundancy into your solution architecture. Ensuring that your solution has no single point of failure is the key to constructing an infrastructure platform that increases the reliability of your service. However, architecting for a system failure requires a global approach. As downtime could be the result of a server going down, a corrupt service, or even a data center failure, your system architecture typically needs you to replicate your infrastructure across multiple global regions. The challenge with this approach is that it requires a high level of planning, implementation, and control. Building redundant infrastructure in various geographic regions can also be costly. Not only do you need to replicate every part of the solution, but you also need to manage and maintain multiple geographically dispersed environments.

Leveraging a CDN for your API solution increases the reliability and availability of the service offered to end-users and site visitors. As the CDN replicates the relevant API elements across its globally dispersed network, it provides the redundancy needed in the event a component, service, or entire site fails. In addition to providing this enhanced resiliency, a CDN is also a cost-effective availability solution when compared to a traditional architecture that delivers the needed redundancy.

CDNs Manage Peak API Traffic Requirements

In addition to the latency and reliability challenges API operators face, managing surges in data requests can also detrimentally impact the performance of sites or services that rely on API functionality. Services frequently experience large traffic spikes as demand for data-driven information increases during seasonal events. Black Friday sales and year-end travel reservations are just some examples of where an API may need to process an excessive volume of requests. 

Building an infrastructure to manage these planned and unplanned traffic surges is both inefficient and time-consuming. Prudence dictates that a solution architecture must have sufficient resources to manage periods of high demand. The challenge with this approach is that you end up paying for unused capacity when traffic to your site or service is not at peak levels. Cloud computing does offer a solution to the problem in that you can scale your infrastructure up and down as demand varies. However, this solution does add a variable cost to your budget, and in some instances, the scaling mechanisms deployed are either manual or delayed.

Due to their global footprint, CDNs offer API service providers with an inexpensive, scalable solution at a fixed cost. They also have access to superior networks and bandwidth, enabling them to manage large volumes of Internet traffic. In addition to their reach and volume advantages, CDNs also manage the platform allowing API service providers to focus on their core offering. By leveraging a CDN, you can scale back on your infrastructure costs, save on unplanned bandwidth expenses, and refocus your resources on innovation instead of operations.

Improved Performance, Availability, and Scalability

A CDN increases the performance, availability, and scalability of an API by caching vital service elements across a globally distributed network. By reducing the latency of requests to the API infrastructure, it improves page load times, enhancing the user experience, and driving functionality. A CDN also secures the availability of an API service by providing a redundant infrastructure and manages traffic demand dynamically through its access to superior bandwidth. In today’s digitally-driven interconnected world where users demand performance and always-on availability, a CDN offers API service providers all the features they need to meet this requirement.

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