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Network latency: common causes & proven tactics to reduce it

Speed is everything. Years ago, customers were fine to wait days or weeks while Netflix delivered their video by mail. Now, they expect near-instantaneous load times, and most will leave a website if it even takes three seconds to load.

Whether you’re streaming a video, playing an online game, shopping online, or accessing a cloud-based application, the responsiveness of that activity plays a critical role in user satisfaction. And at the heart of this responsiveness lies network latency. Network latency is the often-frustrating delay experienced between a user’s action and the response from the network or internet service.

Fortunately, the good news is that your network latency isn’t set in stone. With the right strategies, tools, and know-how, you can reduce your latency and improve your application’s performance. In this article, we’ll show you how.

What is network latency?

Network latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel from its source to its destination. From a user standpoint, it often refers to how long a page or application takes to load.

For startups, especially those relying on real-time interactions or high-speed data processing, even a slight delay can be the difference between a satisfied customer and a lost opportunity.

Imagine a user trying to make a purchase on your app, but the page takes forever to load due to high latency. That user might abandon the purchase, leading to lost revenue. Or consider a real-time gaming platform where high latency can disrupt gameplay, leading to frustrated players. Both scenarios lead to compromised user experiences and a direct hit to your startup’s reputation and bottom line.

Common causes of network latency

Before diving into fixes and solutions, let’s get to the root causes of network latency. By pinpointing these causes, you can make informed decisions on how to troubleshoot network latency issues and implement the right solutions.

Physical distance between servers and users

The internet might seem instantaneous, but data packets still need to travel physically between servers and end-users. The farther the data has to travel, the longer it takes—leading to increased latency.

For example, if your server is in New York and your user is in Tokyo, the data packets have a longer journey compared to if both were in the same city.

Network congestion and traffic

Just like a highway can get congested during rush hour, networks can experience congestion when too many users are accessing data simultaneously. This congestion can slow down data transmission and cause higher network latency.

Peak usage times, large file transfers, or sudden spikes in traffic can all contribute to network connection congestion.

Server performance issues

The performance of your server plays an important role in determining latency. If a server is overwhelmed with requests or lacks the necessary resources (like RAM or CPU), it can struggle to process and send data promptly.

Additionally, outdated hardware or software can further aggravate server performance issues and lead to high network latency.

Application design and architecture

The way an application is designed and architected can influence latency. Complex applications with multiple layers or those that require frequent database queries can introduce delays.

Inefficient code or unoptimized databases can also slow down data retrieval and processing, adding to the network latency issues.

8 tactics to reduce network latency

Now that you know the potential causes of your network latency, you can better choose and implement tactics to achieve low latency. Below, we’ll walk you through some of the best ways to improve network latency. You don’t need to implement all of them—find the ones that most closely align and address your latency issues.

1. Optimize application code and database queries

Efficient code significantly reduces processing times. Regularly review and optimize your application’s code to eliminate bottlenecks. Similarly, optimizing database queries can speed up data retrieval, reducing wait times for users.

Keep your code lean and your database well-structured to prevent unnecessary delays and improve overall performance.

2. Use a content delivery network (CDN)

CDNs store cached versions of your content in multiple locations worldwide. When a user requests data, it’s served from the nearest location, reducing the physical distance data needs to travel.

Strategically place your content closer to your users with CDNs and multi-CNDs to drastically reduce load times and enhance the user experience.

3. Opt for distributed systems and load balancing

Distributed systems spread the load across multiple servers, preventing any single server from becoming a bottleneck. Load balancers distribute incoming traffic across servers, ensuring no single server is overwhelmed.

This setup reduces network latency and enhances the stability and reliability of your applications.

4. Upgrade to high-performance hosting and infrastructure

Investing in high-quality hosting can make a big difference in performance. Opt for reliable hosting providers, like DigitalOcean, that can help provide high-performance infrastructure.

5. Implement caching strategies

Caching stores frequently accessed data in a ‘ready-to-serve’ state. This reduces the need for repeated data processing or retrieval, speeding up response times.

Implementing effective caching strategies (both on the server and client side) can lead to low latency, reduced load times, and improved user experience.

6. Compress data and optimize media

Compressing data reduces the amount of information that needs to be transferred, speeding up transmission times. And optimizing media files, like images and videos, helps them load faster.

Reduce file sizes and provide efficient data transfer to offer a smoother user experience.

7. Prioritize traffic with quality of service (QoS) settings

QoS settings allow you to prioritize certain types of traffic over others. For example, real-time communication can be prioritized over background tasks.

Proactively manage and prioritize your network traffic to ensure optimal performance for critical operations and improve overall responsiveness.

8. Regularly monitor and analyze network performance

Regularly monitor your network performance and measure network latency to spot and address issues before they affect your users. Tools like DigitalOcean Monitoring provide insights into your application’s performance, helping you make informed decisions.

Staying proactive and using network monitoring tools to analyze your network can prevent potential issues and ensure consistent performance.

How DigitalOcean helps reduce latency

DigitalOcean provides a robust and globally distributed infrastructure for your startup applications. We have data centers strategically located across the world, ensuring that your applications are hosted closer to your end-users.

Our state-of-the-art network infrastructure, built with redundancy and resilience in mind, delivers high availability and consistent performance.

Here’s how our solutions can help you achieve low latency:

  • Droplets: DigitalOcean’s virtual private servers, known as Droplets, are optimized for speed and performance. They can be deployed in seconds and come with SSD-based storage, ensuring rapid data access.

  • Spaces and Volumes: DigitalOcean’s object storage and block storage solutions offer scalable and high-performance storage options, providing quick data retrieval and reduced latency.

  • Load Balancers: DigitalOcean’s load balancers distribute incoming traffic across multiple Droplets, preventing any single server from becoming a bottleneck and maintaining optimal performance.

  • Kubernetes: The Managed Kubernetes service ensures that applications scale efficiently and maintain high performance even under heavy loads.

One of our customers, Snipitz, came to us looking to scale their multi-screen, interactive video platform.

“The first thing that comes to mind when you’re a startup is pricing and flexibility, which is how our development team had landed on DigitalOcean.” - Denny Darmo, Snipitz Founder and CEO

Snipitz built their video player on DigitalOcean, and then they worked with us and our partners to help prepare their infrastructure for scale. After a successful implementation, they saw their latency from live in Poland to viewers in the US drop to less than three seconds.

Learn more about how they reduced their network latency in the complete customer story.

Build a resilient infrastructure

The advantage of low network latency goes beyond just faster load times. It translates to improved user satisfaction, increased conversions, and a stronger brand reputation.

For startups, especially where every user counts, providing a fast and seamless user experience could be the difference between your business succeeding or flopping.

Make reducing network latency a priority by building with DigitalOcean. We provide everything from robust infrastructure to advanced networking capabilities, helping you achieve optimal performance regardless of your scale.

Explore all of DigitalOcean’s solutions to see how you can gain a competitive edge on a predictable budget.

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