TL:DR Does Akamai work in China? Akamai does work in China, but not how you’d expect it to. While it is somewhat accessible in China, Fastly websites struggle with speed, compatibility, and delivery. Read more below.
Akamai is the world’s largest and most robust content delivery network (CDN), cloud service, and cybersecurity provider. With a focus on internet security, Akamai was also the founder of the first global, carrier-agnostic cloud-based DDoS mitigation service.
Akamai is used by 50% of the Fortune Global 500, 19 of the 20 Top U.S. E-commerce retailers, 7 of the Top 10 Global banks, and more.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) are a series of servers distributed geographically that allow visitors to access content faster by storing cacheable content closer to. Performing multiple functions, CDNs' benefits can be broken down into Speed and Security.
Storing your resources with North American CDNs would generally be great for website performance within that geographic region, but not good for further areas such as China.
What is cacheable content? Cacheable content (including images, videos, or webpages) is content that is intentionally located closer to end users by storing them in servers geographically closer. This combination of static, cacheable content and dynamic content is what comprises most websites.
This content can further be broken down into primary and third-party resources. It is important to note that CDNs do not accelerate access to third-party resources, leading to potentially slowing down or hindering the website's loading.
CDNs in China are used to accelerate regional delivery of primary resources by delivering these files their static files i.e. delivering primary resources from locations closer to users in China (i.e. images or files hosted on their website).
A well-selected CDN is still helpful in resolving some portions of website performance issues that websites face even in spite of their limitations.
More about China CDN comparisons and considerations can be read here.
It depends as Akamai sites are not blocked in China, but they:
i) Utilise partner, ChinaNetCenter, for their onshore POPs in China. ChinaNetCenter, also known as Wangsu Technology Company Limited, is functionally a third-party service that is logically separated from Akamai's global operations (for many reasons).
ii) Do not provide China compatibility solutions to handle, resolve, or replace resources that are blocked or inaccessible from China. Wangsu has 500+ PoPs in China and provides the typical CDN services one would expect from a content delivery network. However, Akamai global CDN features such as image optimisation and DNS are not available for Akamai China.
This is similar to Cloudflare's China CDN, and their partnership with Baidu.
Pre-requisites to use Akamai China CDN include an ICP Filing or License, a local hosting agreement with a Chinese-based hosting provider, PSB Bei An, a legal entity in China/China-owned business or a China-based representation office. Companies remain the exclusive owner of customer data but data must be stored domestically in China.
To lay the groundwork, let’s define what it means for a website to work in China in terms of -
Website speed is still affected as having a CDN does not necessarily mean that content is delivered faster nor that it is hosted within China.
Users in China are retrieving files from CDN nodes generally outside of China due to the requirements to have your site and content hosted within China. This often takes place from nodes much farther away than the optimal CDN range even with Akamai working with third-party POPs.
CDNs with POPs inside China might help in this respect to a certain extent. However, while primary resources and static files that can be cached by CDNs might experience acceleration, there are elements that CDNs and hosting providers don’t touch that still can cause issues with how your website performs in China.
Code-based incompatibilities on the website itself are the second issue that websites are up against regarding functionality in China.
Due to the variety and multitude of technologies and resources that are blocked or slow to load in China, these code-based incompatibilities arise.
Most modern-day websites are made up of hundreds of resources and technologies including essential libraries such as popular plugins, and/or default components that website-building platforms inherently include out of the box.
Commonly used blocked third-party resources include Google APIs, Vimeo, Youtube, Facebook, and more. Other primary and or third-party resources*, while not blocked or inaccessible in China. may be delivered from networks that perform slowly in China (i.e. Amazon S3).
Defining Primary vs. Third-Party Resources: Primary resources are defined as web resources hosted on the primary website domain (www.website.com) vs. third-party resources which are hosted and managed by third-party providers (e.g. assets.webcms.com, apis.google.com)
What happens when the browser attempts to load blocked or slow technologies from China?
A quick walkthrough on how websites usually load -
An HTML document request is made
The web server provides HTML to a web browser to read
The web browser reads HTML files to identify where to find resources
A request for resources is made by the browser - including images, CSS, and js files - from the server(s)
The browser parses these files
Finally, the browser then renders (or displays) the webpage
The web browser will keep attempting to load blocked resources and keep trying to retrieve the file for a period of time before it moves on to the next resource. As a result, the loading process stalls and gets stuck
The blocked resource ends up interfering with the total loading time of the website in China while also impacting site functionality.
Below is a waterfall chart when a China visitor attempted to load resources past Facebook trackers.
Note that by 35 seconds, only 30% of this website's resources have successfully loaded.
What happens when your site has blocked or slow-loading resources?
You end up with a site that loads both partially and slowly and at times takes upwards of 30 seconds, affecting the Deliverability of the website.
How does Chinafy work to improve both speed and accessibility?
Chinafy is a highly tuned complex integration of both Software (i.e. Code) and Infrastructure (i.e. Hardware) that can be bolted onto almost any site and will work with your existing CDNs.
For this reason, Tier 1 Cloud Platforms’ CDN providers partner with Chinafy to achieve full optimization on the FE application layer. Our partners include AWS, Azure and BaishanCloud.
By combining intelligent China-specific resource optimizations with a multi-load-balanced infrastructure, websites are able to achieve significant improvements in performance across the board.
Chinafy first scans your website to create a Chinafy-managed version of your site, detecting resources that are blocked or slow across your site.
Chinafy then optimizes that Chinafy version of your site across infrastructure, resources, and security based on best practices.
Once the Chinafy site is turned on, your China visitors will get directed to the 'Chinafy-version' of your website and all others to the original version of your site.
Chinafy's automation rules then keep the two versions of your site in sync, optimizing your website as it evolves. By combining our Web Compatibility suite with our partnered CDN providers, Chinafy sites are 30-40% faster than sites with near-China CDNs such as Fastly alone.
This way, Chinafy provides the best of both worlds, ensuring that your global web experience for your global visitor remains unaffected while delivering a version of your site that works well for visitors in China.
Contact us to learn about how Chinafy helps get sites 30-40% faster than just using a CDN.