How Steam Powers Its Gaming Community Using a CDN

If you play PC games, then you know that Valve’s Steam online gaming store is one of the most popular download centers with possibly Blizzard as a close second. Log into Steam and you can find any game (even retro ones) available for a PC platform. Indie game developers can upload their games as well. It’s a platform and community of game developers, hardcore gamers, and even just hobbyists.

Download a game from Steam, and you’ll notice one clear aspect on the community — even if you download 20 gigabytes of data, it’s still lightning fast. The bottleneck is always on your own network or with your ISP’s bandwidth. Steam relies heavily on its CDN to ensure even large downloads transfer quickly.

Redundant Data Centers

Redundancy is key for disaster recovery. Steam has several data centers scattered across the globe, and they are often strategically placed at high traffic geographic locations. Users are rarely more than 1000 miles from the closest data center, but then a redundant one is not too far away. This provides Steam with two advantages:

  1. Should one data center fail, another one is similar close proximity to the user is still available with redundant data. This means that the user won’t see any performance drops should something catastrophic happen with the closest edge server.
  2. When one edge server gets overloaded with traffic, the overage can spill over to the secondary location. A CDN can reroute traffic to another data center that has less traffic and better performance while the primary location is inundated with traffic.

Users Choose Their Download Location

Large gaming communities especially ones that cater to the multiplayer online players have server locations where gamers can choose their preferred location. Usually, gamers choose to play with local players, but for several reasons it’s better for some players to choose international locations (night time work hours, traveling, language barriers, etc).

Steam provides the option for players to choose where they want to download from. This can let players choose from a location that might have lower usage during local peak times. Users can also change at any time, so they can find a faster server should one data center get flooded with traffic.

Valve’s Community Would Be Too Slow Without Its CDN

Unless you stick to downloading old 1990s games, any new game release is several gigabytes. You can’t control end user bandwidth, but you can offer faster performance on your own network environment. A CDN can make this offer much more convenient, and give gaming developers a way to release downloads without the worry of poor performance from low bandwidth during peak hours.

Any time you rely on large downloads, a CDN improves performance and takes the load off of your origin server. You can still push content to the origin server, and then a CDN downloads the content to its own data centers. The result is that users no longer worry about updates and large downloads during peak hours, and they can get their content at any time of the day.

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