What's the difference between a traditional CDN and Instart?

What's the difference between a traditional CDN and Instart?

A common question we get here at Instart is what's the difference between our solution and a traditional Content Delivery Network (CDN)?

Since many web publishers already use some type of CDN and our solution embeds a global CDN, it can serve as a good reference point for learning about Instart, a new, much-needed technology that comes just in time for the latest generation of ultra-rich and interactive websites and web applications being accessed via wireless networks.

In this post, we will highlight the following five main differences between Instart and a traditional CDN, including:

  • Having a modern focus that includes mobile and wireless last mile networks

  • Adopting a different approach to delivery that sends a portion of the data vs. requiring a full up front download

  • Moving the intelligence beyond the network layer to the application layer

  • Using a unique client-cloud architecture that leverages lightweight virtualization in the browser

  • Allowing visibility and control of both first-party and third-party code and content

Let’s drill into each of these differences in a bit more detail.

Focus: Core internet latency vs. end-to-end solution built for wireless

Content Delivery Networks were originally developed over 15 years ago when latency and routing issues in the core “middle mile” of the Internet were the most significant barriers to fast website delivery. CDNs work primarily by keeping copies of frequently accessed images, scripts, and other web site components “cached” closer to website users in the edge of ISP networks. CDNs at the time were effective at solving core “middle mile” Internet latency issues back when users were all accessing the Internet over wired connections to their ISPs on desktop systems.

Today, core “middle mile” bottlenecks that existed 15 years ago have shifted beyond the reach of the edge of the ISP networks into the new wireless “last mile” networks. These new bottlenecks are now on the last mile wireless connections (3G, 4G, LTE and WiFi) that exist between end users and their ISPs. Unfortunately, CDNs were not designed to address the modern challenges in this new world of mobile devices connecting via wireless networks and as a result, your delivery systems need additional capabilities to continue to provide customers with amazing web experiences.

Instart was architected thinking mobile first to address the challenges of sending websites and applications to mobile users over congested last mile wireless networks. It provides a full end-to-end solution that enables faster web experiences from the  origin web servers all the way to a consumer on an iPhone in Starbucks or a laptop-toting traveler using in-flight WiFi. Instart Web Performance accelerates user experiences over every mile as an end-to-end solution that includes a global CDN for today’s internet delivery challenges.

Approach: Download it all vs. streaming what you need

Traditional Content Delivery Networks need to completely download a web application before it can be displayed and a consumer can start interacting with the application. This is a key distinction because with Instart, visitors can view and interact when only a partial download of the web application has occurred.

Instart’s digital experience automation solutions safely divides web applications into smaller fragments and then intelligently streams the most important portions of the application to the browser first. The remainder of the application then continues to stream down in the background, while the user is already interacting with the web experience. As a result, the customer’s wait time is dramatically reduced.

From a visitor‘s viewpoint, the single most important metric is not full page load times. There is growing recognition that the user experience is impacted more by the wait until the moment when the app loads and first becomes interactive, a.k.a. the time to display. In other words, “How fast can I view, click and take my next action?”. Some call this “time to first interaction.” Instart is designed to reduce the time it takes to get users engaged, not just the total download time.

Intelligence: Network layer vs. application layer

Instart understands what is flowing through its systems and has a deep understanding of websites and apps, as well as how they load in web browsers.

Traditional CDNs operate purely at the network level. They were built to overcome the effects of latency by keeping copies of static data closer to users and using TCP acceleration and network level compression to speed raw data transfer. They are not designed to understand the 1’s and 0’s going across them. And they don’t know or understand which parts of a website or application are most important to getting the user experience displayed and ready for engagement.

As a result, traditional CDNs have to send considerably more data up front before a browser can parse the information and display it to the end user. As the size of websites and applications continues to grow, this only adds to modern performance challenges.

Instart, by contrast, works primarily at the application layer and is able to make intelligent decisions about the data being sent to web browsers. Awareness of various different content formats, such as images, HTML, and JavaScript, are built into the system. For example, by using computer vision,ML analysis, and device detection, Instart can understand image content as well as the capabilities of the requesting device. This allows our solution to optimize the image data and image format to reduce data transfer without a loss of visual quality. In the case of dynamic HTML and JavaScript, Instart can monitor what code is used and when on the client side and send that information to the cloud service. Using these patterns of access, it can then intelligently sequence and send the most critical information on the initial request, reducing data transfer while preserving the user experience.

Reach: Cloud-only architecture vs. client-cloud architecture

Traditional CDNs use a “cloud-only” architecture, confined to operating in the backend of the Internet, without the ability to reach beyond the edge of ISP networks. As a result, even the most advanced CDNs can only guess about the conditions on the end users’ systems.

Instart is built on top of an innovative “client-cloud” architecture. A thin,transparent client called the Nanovisor, built in JavaScript, uses lightweight virtualization technology to run transparently between the executing website or application and the browser’s various APIs and caches. It’s completely transparent to the end user and requires no changes by web publishers to deploy. It allows standard web browsers to receive a web application as a stream and run it even when only a portion of all fragments have been downloaded.

The Nanovisor also works with the distributed Instart cloud, which includes a global CDN. The Instart cloud analyzes web application load and execution profiles to determine which components are highest-priority, or what a visitor needs in order to start their interaction. Instart  then uses that knowledge to send the components in the optimal order to a visitor’s browser, improving start render and time to interact without a loss of quality.

Scope: First-party content only vs. first- and third-party code and content

While traditional CDNs only touch and affect first-party content, Instart provides visibility and control of the massive amounts of third-party code that is now a part of every web experience. Using the Nanovisor running in the browser, Instart monitors the performance of third-party tags and their dependent calls, while applying active control policies to resequence how third-party tags are loaded to ensure they don’t impact web performance.

In addition to improving performance, this control capability allows stopping third-party tags or their calls at runtime to mitigate reliability issues that are common with frequently changing services.

These five things are the biggest differences we talk about, but there are many more. If you are looking for even more detail, we invite you to contact us for a free trial and see how Instart can dramatically improve your web page load times.