At Woopra, we routinely perform assessments of our infrastructure in order to ensure that we are building our systems in a manner that will provide the highest performance for our members.

A key element of the Woopra delivery model is our use of a system called a CDN, or Content Distribution Network. A CDN is comprised of a globally distributed system of computers that mirror content in multiple geographic regions, plus a special routing system which directs end users to the closest local server from which they can download a file.

CDNs are important for services like Woopra since we monitor billions of page views per month and each one requires that a JavaScript be downloaded from our network. Without a CDN, all traffic would have to come back to our main servers located in Dallas. With the CDN, users in Japan can download files from Japan, Germans can get it from Germany, and New Yorkers can get it from New York. This efficient system for routing results in increased performance and reliability across the network.

Woopra was previously partnered with a CDN provider called Panther Express, which was fairly recently acquired by another company called CDNetworks. They had been responsible for serving billions of JavaScript downloads since the beginning; however a recent series of events led us to swap providers for a more reliable, better performing partner called EdgeCast.

As we were preparing for the Woopra launch over the last several weeks, we decided to migrate key sections of our Member's Area over to a secure area on the CDN to meet our user's needs for secure service management. This prompted us to seek CDNetwork's assistance to make it happen. Unfortunately they were unresponsive, even through repeated escalations to the highest levels of the organization. I was told directly that their lack of response was due to the fact they are no longer interested in clients as "small" as Woopra.

While attempting to understand their position and work through the issues, we began discussions with several other providers, quickly narrowing down the field to a single alternative, EdgeCast. As we began comparing the two vendors, we opted to have a third party testing company called Gomez run independent tests to help us make a decision as to which choice would be best for our users. Identical files were uploaded to EdgeCast and CDNetworks, after which Gomez ran 24 hours worth of download requests from cities all over the world. The results pretty much speak for themselves:

EdgeCast-vs-Panther-summary

As you can see, the EdgeCast network's response time was one third that of CDNetworks. This is far from a trivial difference, as it means we can expect literally hundreds of millions of pages all across the web to load over 150ms faster when served by EdgeCast. In addition, the fact that .62% of the time Panther failed to deliver means that Woopra would not have been able to count those pageviews, resulting in inaccuracy.

Here is a slightly more detailed report showing the hour by hour breakdown:

EdgeCast-vs-Panther

Around the time that the testing was being completed, we finally worked through the business issues with CDNetworks only to discover that several technical issues remained - most importantly, their inability to compress SSL encrypted files. At this point, the decision became quite clear that the best thing for the Woopra community was to move to the EdgeCast network.

In stark contrast to CDNetworks level of interest and responsiveness, EdgeCast worked through issues extremely quickly. Within a 24 hour period our account manager Dmitry was able to quote us a price (more than CDNetworks, but fair nonetheless), agree to a few minor changes to their standard contract (surprisingly fair to start with), and set up an account for us even before the completion of the paperwork.

It was amazing to see that Yankee Group's number 3 ranked Content Delivery Network was still able to be nimble and responsive - two things I know will serve the Woopra community well if (and when) an emergency ever arises.

At this point, Woopra has completely shifted to the EdgeCast network, and you should all notice that every page load on your Web site is just a little faster because of this change. Yes, it cost a little more, but in the end we're willing to pay it for the benefit of the entire community.

I am curious if anyone noticed the change and the improvement in their Web page download times. Drop a comment below and let us know!

PS - I think of this as an interesting case study in which a vendor was unseated solely based on service and having little to do with price. We would all do well to keep that lesson in mind.


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