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I have vaguely heard of CDNs (Content Distribution Network) and I suppose they come into picture in context of multimedia(audio/video) online sites like youtube. My question is what really are these CDNs?. Do they just mean that data is replicated at many nodes, so a user request is catered from the node nearest to him/her or is most accessible? In such case, how are they different from banking infrastructure where sensitive data is replicated at many places so that if a node crashes, we don't lose the critical data.

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they are different from the banking analogy in a few ways. first, if a node crashes, the content isn't lost because the nodes users connect to are not the "definitive" copy of the data. think of them as a subscriber. second, banks do not create infrastructure fault tolerance in order to make your user experience faster. they do it to prevent disaster. CDN's are optimized both in proximity to the end user, and efficiency in delivering static or semi-static content to them, but not dynamic content like a banking site.

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Do they just mean that data is replicated at many nodes, so a user request is catered from the node nearest to him/her or is most accessible?

That's pretty much right.

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