How to address web performance and security in China
Selecting the best solution to optimize the web user experience for users located in China can be a daunting task. I will give some advice and ideas below on how to optimize your web performance in China.
Why China is important to you
Well if you started to read this blog post you probably already know how important China is or will become to your organization. China is home to the world’s largest Internet population with 720 million people online, that’s more than twice as many as in United States. This staggering number of web users still has capacity to double in size as China is only just passing 50% Internet penetration. However, tapping into this market can be difficult with regulatory requirements, malicious attacks and quite unique Internet infrastructure challenges.
Is using CDN with China presence a silver bullet? (spoiler: it’s not)
To help customers overcome these hurdles and streamline the process of website optimization in China, Episerver/Optimizely offers an extended CDN service into China improving global performance and security. Customers using our China CDN service have shaved off seconds of latency and seen site availability improve by over 30%.
But is it always that simple to get perfect web performance? No, it is not. China CDN is not a silver bullet for every use case. But we can help you as a customer to navigate and find a solution that works best for your unique use case and budget.
Web performance in China is a unique problem to solve
Challenge #1: The ICP license
Tapping into China’s lucrative and growing Internet economy can be difficult. First, to serve online content inside China, companies need to obtain an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license from China’s Ministry of Industry and Internet Technology. This can be a daunting and long process for foreign companies entering the market. The ICP process is not something we at Episerver/Optimizely help with, but there are companies specializing on that. And you need an ICP license to get access to China CDN in Episerver/Optimizely DXP.
Challenge #2: The great firewall of China
Cloud vendors face performance and availability challenges posed by China’s unique and complex infrastructure. China has three connections with the outside world (located in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou), a limitation that often results in severe bottlenecks for web traffic coming into the country. Back in 2014 Mehdi Daoudi, CEO of Catchpoint systems, shared some telling data that local websites were twice as fast as those served from outside China. This kind of difference between inside or outside the firewall is true also today. If you can cache your content in China using a CDN, you’re seeing 5-10x better performance and better availability.
China is one of the few places in the world where accelerating dynamic websites using a CDN is not a guarantee to improve the web performance. Citrix (former Cedexis) Country Reports is a great tool used over many years by colleagues in the web industry, and the “Dynamic Object Delivery” report for China explains with data why this is a problem. Whatever CDN you use, your dynamic content is probably better served directly from an origin in Asia (for example Singapore) than via a CDN using the usual best practices.
Serving your content inside of China and avoiding these choke points is critical to achieving really high web performance in the country. Furthermore, increasing the performance of your site improves SEO rankings. China CDN in DXP helps you serve cached content from within China improving the user experience. But again, China CDN won’t necessary improve performance for dynamic or non-cached content.
Challenge #3: China’s unique infrastructure
Even if companies host their websites within mainland China, there are further internal infrastructure complications to overcome. There are only three major ISPs that control the network inside of China: China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile. Due to limited interconnection (peering) and the incredibly high volume of traffic in China, these networks are frequently congested, resulting in high latency and packet loss.
Challenge #4: Security
Security is also a major concern in China as websites see a constant bombardment of attacks. Not only have large botnet attacks been seen coming from the country, but over 59% of the world’s Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks target China. Furthermore, these DDoS attacks are on the rise, making China’s Internet increasingly more unreliable for websites without protection.
Key takeaways on how to improve your performance in China
1. Use China CDN to improve Content Delivery Latency Issues by caching
First make sure you know if you’re able to cache the necessary content in the CDN despite geographical location. Then caching with China CDN will help in China. Using for example the private cache-control header at the origin for gated content will severely decrease your chances to get most out of CDN caching, unless you authenticate the gated content at the CDN edge and serve it from there. Test and verify your use cases before you move ahead with the ICP license and decide on what solution works best for you. Learn HTTP Cache-headers 101 if in doubt how this works across Internet and specifically use of cache-headers in CDNs.
2. To get access to China CDN you need to obtain an ICP License
The ICP process is not something we at Episerver/Optimizely help with, but there are companies specializing on that. And you need an ICP license to get access to China CDN in DXP.
3. Consider combining In-China CDN with Near-China origin
To minimize latency for your dynamic content you’ll benefit from an origin close to the end-users. China is one of the few places in the world where accelerating dynamic websites using a CDN is not a guarantee to improve the web performance. And Episerver/Optimizely do not offer in-china origins for DXP. However, we do offer near-China presence with the South-East Asia (Singapore) Episerver/OptimizelyDXP region that was launched in 2020. Our own performance tests serving a site to Beijing showed a 30% load time improvement when using a Singapore origin vs a North Europe origin, this without considering the impact of caching more content on top of that.
Please comment and share your experiences and feedback below. Happy caching!
Associate VP Product Management for the DXP Cloud Platform at Optimizely