How Fastly’s Edge Cloud Platform is Helping Businesses Process Data in Real Time to Boost Web and Application Performance

How Fastly Helps Businesses Boost Site Performance

TL; DR: Maintaining customer loyalty and driving revenue has become all about user experience (UX) in today’s online business environment. Sites with performance or load-time issues often cause visitors to drop off and, worse, tell their friends. Fastly’s edge cloud platform helps businesses keep pace with customer expectations by providing quick and secure visitor experiences. The platform scales on demand, optimizing load times with dynamic site acceleration. Through flexible caching and real-time data streaming, Fastly is helping some of the largest online businesses in the world enhance the performance of their sites and applications.

The contemporary online business space has seen an increased focus on user experience (UX) over the past decade, and much of this focus rests on site reliability and load time. The stats are telling — 39% of visitors leave a site if images take too long to load, and 68% of visitors won’t return to a site with poor performance. Even more damaging, an astounding 46% of consumers who leave a site due to load-time issues will spread the word to their friends, which can be the final nail in the coffin for a business in today’s competitive online marketplace.

Load time is money, and Fastly has made a mission of helping businesses optimize it.

“Load time has only become more critical as time goes on, especially with today’s expectation for instant access. Users will jump if a site isn’t loading fast enough,” said Fastly’s CTO Tyler McMullen. “Sites can — and do — lose visitors if they fail to give instant access to content.”

Through its edge cloud platform, Fastly gives businesses the ability to offer quick and secure digital experiences.

Tyler McMullen's headshot and Fastly logo

Fastly CTO Tyler McMullen told us how the edge cloud platform boosts site performance and positively impacts revenue.

From large media outlets to gaming and eCommerce sites, Fastly lets businesses scale sites without large infrastructure investment requirements. The company’s site acceleration, flexible caching, and real-time streaming capabilities give businesses the competitive advantage of meeting visitor expectations when it comes to site usability and functionality.

With predictions that posit a shift away from cloud computing, it is becoming increasingly important to serve data at the edge of the network, and Fastly helps do just that.

“Our platform makes this possible while mitigating security threats and without sacrificing the user experience,” Tyler said. “This is a part of a larger trend that’s reshaping the internet as a whole.”

An Edge Cloud Platform to Deliver Fast and Secure Digital Experiences

Fastly’s edge cloud platform provides the ability to be aware and react to user demand in real time. Tyler told us of the importance of using Fastly as a CDN to manage and secure infrastructure at the edge of the network.

“Our new edge cloud platform is a collection of capabilities that empowers the world’s most popular businesses to deliver secure, fast, and personalized digital experiences as close to end users as possible,” he said. “Ultimately, this helps digital businesses better compete by delivering scalable, consistently secure, fast, and reliable online customer experiences.”

Fastly’s platform combines load balancing, cloud security, easy acceleration of dynamic assets, and real-time streaming to accomplish this.

Dynamic Site Acceleration with Flexible Caching

Caching static content usually entails retrieving content from memory and returning it to the user as fast as possible. Tyler told us this is a well-understood problem, but dynamic content poses a host of new problems.

“It means having to worry about removing old content and adding new content at an incredibly high rate,” he said. “Doing that without negatively affecting throughput is challenging.”

According to Tyler, naive solutions can create memory fragmentation and harm SSDs, which reduces their lifetime and negatively impacts latency.

“We’ve ended up having to create and use novel software specifically for this problem.”

The result was Fastly’s dynamic site acceleration software that speeds up requests and responses between Fastly’s points of presence (POPs) and a business’s server. This keeps load times low and visitor usability high.

The Benefits of Employing Varnish and Fastly SSD Servers

Tyler noted Fastly’s performance benefits come as two related measurements — latency and throughput. Looking at latency, Tyler said Fastly keeps a close eye on time to first byte (TTFB).

“Due to the way Varnish is built and the huge amount of changes we’ve made to it internally, we keep our 99th percentile of TTFB well below 1ms,” Tyler said. “Above that 99th percentile, you start to see the effect of having to go to disk.”

However, because of the SSDs Fastly uses, and the way the team uses them, even above the 99th percentile latency stays faster than the industry standard. The end result is low variance from one request to the next; responses are reliably fast, according to Tyler.

When it comes to throughput, Tyler told us lower latency means more requests can be handled.

“We spend a lot of time optimizing Varnish so that we can use every last drop of network bandwidth and CPU,” he said. “That lets us keep our throughput per machine at 40gbps or more, which is important for protecting our customers from spikes as well as DDoS.”

Real-Time Streaming Gets Data to Customers Reliably and Efficiently

Real-time data streaming has pros and cons and Tyler weighed in on how Fastly sees them.

“It increases the system complexity in some ways, and reduces it in others,” he said. “When you have data in memory, the best time to move it across the network and deliver it to users is right now — immediately.”

According to Tyler, immediately streaming data creates fewer worries about losing it. And, since Fastly moves data to its customers as quickly as possible without recording it, privacy and security issues are greatly reduced.

Graphic depicting how Fastly's platform delivers data

Fastly delivers data as close to the end user as possible, which results in reliable and efficient streaming.

There are problems that can arise by streaming large amounts of data in real time. Tyler told us these are similar to other problems of running a CDN for dynamic content.

“We stream nearly as many records per second as we handle requests per second from end users,” he said. “One of the key issues here is streaming that data without DDoSing our own customers with data.”

To avoid this, Fastly employs a hierarchical system, aggregating data over multiple locations and streaming it to customers with efficiency.

Helping Businesses Keep Pace With Customer Expectations

Fastly optimizes site performance for businesses across a wide array of industries. From digital publishing and eCommerce to online video and hospitality, Fastly’s platform is helping businesses maximize efficiencies and revenue.

Sometimes the fixes are simple, as was the case for Pinterest. The social media platform’s Pin It button was moved to Fastly, which immediately saved costs by removing the need for a large backend infrastructure.

Fastly was able to help scale the Dollar Shave Club’s website after the company took out an ad during the Super Bowl. More than 100 million viewers saw the Dollar Shave Club’s commercial, and the company wanted to be ready to provide site visitors a seamless experience.

“We had tons of traffic,” said Michael Dubin, Dollar Shave Club’s CEO, “and the site held up and scaled exactly how we hoped it would thanks to Fastly.”

Like Dollar Shave Club, The New York Times used Fastly to help its site performance in anticipation of traffic increases on election night.

“They saw an 8,371% traffic increase during election night and were able to deliver a smooth, reliable experience for readers while continuing to update news articles and interactive content instantly,” Tyler said.

The Next IT Disruptor — Cloud Computing at the Edge is the Future

The public’s demands for quick website load time and reliability are here to stay. With the proliferation of the Internet of Things and as web access to remote parts of the world increases, CDNs must maintain pace as the landscape changes.

Andreessen Horowitz’s recently predicted the next major IT disruptor has cloud computing shifting back to the edge of the network, and Fastly is ready to help businesses respond.

“We’re really excited to help companies move their network to the edge and improve performance,” Tyler said. “Since much of today’s data is generated by users at the edge of a network, processing and serving the data at the edge will become increasingly important. Companies can no longer rely on static data and stay relevant.”

Websites require rapid delivery of changing content to survive and Fastly is out front paving the way into the future of content delivery.

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