Meeting the Challenge of Next-Generation Optimization – Ensighten’s Tag Delivery Network

April 8, 2013

When Josh Manion asked me in 2009 to deliver a scalable system that could deploy any tag with a single line of code while improving page performance at scale, my first thought was “that’s ridiculous!”

I knew part one of his request was doable:  container tags were (and still are) capable of deploying many tags. What gave me pause was the “scalable while improving page load performance” part.  Container tags often leverage Content Delivery Networks (CDN), which are designed to deliver static files and to send instructions to the browser about each individual tag. And because those instructions naturally grow with the number of tags, a container tag would not meet Josh’s requirement.

This is why CDNs are suited for simple scenarios with limited digital services. CDNs fail (exponentially) when you deploy dozens of technologies on lots of sites— like most large brands do.

This is the reason why Ensighten built a next-generation tag system we lovingly refer to as the Ensighten Real Time™ Tag Delivery Network (TDN).

What is a TDN?

A TDN is a high-availability, high-performance, geographically redundant network of data centers provided by leading cloud and virtual private server (VPS) vendors. In plain English, the TDN is hundreds of computers around the world backing each other up and delivering tags on demand.

A key capability and design decision driver for Ensighten was, and remains, the dynamic delivery of content to Ensighten clients’ website visitors. The TDN decides exactly which tags to send to the browser, unlike classic CDNs that must send the entire container with all tags to the browser, whether or not they are needed.

If the TDN infrastructure offers the best performance and scalability, why doesn’t everyone build one?  Simply put, because doing it right is difficult and expensive.  Why?  Because it has to meet two important requirements:

High Availability

Any downtime means loss of revenue, yet downtime is an unavoidable fact of doing business on the Web. Providing high availability, in this context, means geographic and ISP redundancy.

Sending data from one place to another means your data passes through networks out of your control. If these in-between networks experience issues, either your system is down, or ISP redundancy routes around the problem. Likewise, if your own infrastructure has an issue (e.g. data center outage), you need redundant infrastructure to take over for the misbehaving bits.

Practically speaking, these are the reasons Ensighten employs multiple providers on different networks. There have been (and always will be) high profile outages with every major cloud and CDN provider.  To deal with the inevitable, Ensighten intelligently routes traffic based on the geographic origin of the request and current status of Ensighten data centers and third-party networks. This global, redundant, multi-cloud network is behind Ensighten’s industry-leading 99.99% up-time SLA.

High Performance

High performance means fast response times and a guarantee they will remain fast as the volume of content (in this case tags) increases. There are two parts to performance:

  • The container tag:  A major reason digital marketers adopt tag management systems is they can’t afford to sacrifice website performance in order to use all the tags required to compete on the web these days. Marketers relying on the container tag approach will soon see initial performance gains evaporate as they scale up their campaigns, stuffing more tags into the container.
  • The delivery pipe:  Building an infrastructure capable of high performance at scale is hard and expensive, because you must acquire hardware and network connectivity all around the world. Other TMS vendors have not made this investment, opting for the easy route instead:  an existing CDN. CDNs essentially rent their global server network to many companies more affordably than a company could build its own. The drawbacks are that the TMS vendor doesn’t own and control critical infrastructure, and they are locked into the container tag approach, which as explained, does not scale.

The only way to achieve high performance at scale was to build our own real-time infrastructure and drop the container tag.

The Real-Time™ Tag Delivery Network is a critical and strategic investment that pays real dividends to our customers – limitless scalability while improving page load performance. No other tag management system has a TDN, and it’s one of the many reasons why we’re the enterprise leader. This advantage we offer is why time and again, companies who are serious about digital marketing – like Sony, United, Staples, Symantec and many others – choose Ensighten.

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