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By Badrul Hassan

The most significant infrastructural initiatives for Demandware this year is the migration of existing customers to the new eCDN (Embedded Content Delivery Network) platform by CloudFlare. With this initiative, Salesforce is trying to solve a few lingering inadequacies around latency that have exasperated certain aspects of the customer experience for a long time.  There have been quite a few early adopters of the new infrastructure, however, a good portion of customers still remain on the current Akamai CDN platform. As a customer, before you start allocating valuable time and resources to eCDN migration and move this project to the top of the priority list, let’s take a look at the benefits and challenges to facilitate an informed decision.  Demandware will eventually mandate everyone to move to the new eCDN infrastructure, so preparing early can minimize any surprises in the future.

What does a Content Delivery Network (CDN) actually do?

Once we understand the core principles of a CDN, we can take a look at how the new eCDN is different from the current CDN, and what different types of benefits we can expect after the migration. So what is a CDN? To understand the concept of a CDN, imagine the origin of the customers who visit websites like YouTube, CNN, or even your ecommerce site. The simple answer is: popular websites have visitors from all over the world accessing their content. So, what happens when your website is hosted in a North American data center, but you have visitors from China or India? Would they be able able to access the website as fast as someone who lives in the U.S.? The answer is no, since a website is brought to the user’s computer through a series of content lookups. If the geographical distance between the user and the server is significant, then this may lead to delayed delivery of the requested content. That’s where a CDN becomes useful; by geographically distributing data centers and caching the content, websites can be delivered significantly faster to the end user.  

CDN infrastructure: current state (AKAMAI) vs. future state (CloudFlare)

Current State. Currently, Demandware only delivers static content over HTTP via the Akamai CDN. All page requests — whether HTTP or HTTPS — do not utilize the current CDN capabilities. Also, any static content over HTTPS doesn’t utilize the CDN, which leads to slower performance of pages that are only served under HTTPS (i.e., My account, Checkout pages).

Future State. In the embedded CDN, the infrastructure will provide full page acceleration by caching all HTTP and HTTPS content. This will result in faster performance for pages that are usually served via HTTP (i.e., homepage, category pages, search results, product detail pages), as well as pages that are always served via the secure protocol.

One of the upcoming advantages of caching HTTPS content is the ability to eventually switch the entire site to HTTPS. Although this switch is not mandated by Demandware as part of the eCDN migration, it may be a topic of discussion due to added ranking and SEO benefits, as Google has been using HTTPS as a ranking signal for a few years, and may decide to put more weight behind this ranking in the future.

HTTP/2. One of the biggest advantages of the eCDN is the support for the new version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) — the medium through which web pages are delivered.  HTTP/2 is inherently faster than the current version of the protocol, HTTP 1.1, since it no longer requires the browser to make linear requests for content. Simply put, when a computer or a mobile browser is visiting a webpage, behind the scene it’s sending requests to the server for all the different contents on that page.  

The list of content includes things like images, css files, javascript files, and page content. These series’ of requests are currently carried out in a linear fashion.

Although some modern browsers open concurrent connections to the server to reduce page load time, architecturally there are still limitations to this approach. HTTP/2 solves the inefficiency in this model, by using a multiplexed connection that can handle multiple requests at once. This ensures the browser isn’t waiting for a response from a previous request to move on to the next asset. Due to the multiplex approach, all pages load faster under HTTP/2, which is a great advantage of the new eCDN.

Have a migration strategy

There are notable security and scalability benefits with the eCDN. In the new setup, the network and servers are automatically protected against Layer 4 SYN flood attacks. All incoming traffic patterns are actively monitored so a Layer 7 DoS attack can be dealt with almost immediately.  So with an enhanced DDoS protection plan, retailers can boost their security apparatus by virtue of this migration. There are also some risks involved in this migration process, but they can be easily managed with proper planning and guidance from platform experts. Demandware also provides instructions on the migration process which addresses many common problems.

One key area to focus on is third-party integrations; the eCDN migration will in fact change the IP of the website, meaning all integration partners need to be notified ahead of time so the new IP is accounted for in their security configurations. Also, internal IT involvement is crucial for a successful transition, as DNS entries will have to be updated as well. With early involvement from key stakeholders and a robust testing plan, this migration should be a piece of cake!

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