If you’ve minified and combined files, optimized images, deleted plugins, enabled compression and caching, fixed render-blocking resources, reduced HTTP requests and tried other countless ways to speed up your site, it’s time to consider signing up to a content delivery network (CDN).
There are a lot of CDNs around. You’ve probably heard of Cloudflare, which is hugely popular, and other options like MaxCDN and KeyCDN. But choosing a CDN can be tricky because each has its pros and cons. Plus, there’s been a lot of change in the industry over the past two years so a CDN you might have been familiar may have grown considerably in recent years – or been acquired by another company.
So in this post, we’ll take a look at the top CDNs of 2017 along with their features, pricing, and what’s changed in recent years.
What is a CDN and Why Do I Need One?
When a user visits a website that is stored on a server in close proximity (i.e. in the same city), there are fewer hops for the site’s content to travel, ensuring the connection is faster. But if the server is located some distance away (i.e. in a different continent), each content packet has to travel much further, resulting in slower page load speeds.
It’s for this reason why CDNs are so useful. A CDN is a network of servers strategically placed across the globe with the purpose of delivering static content to users much much faster. When a website uses a CDN a copy of its static content is copied to the network’s edge servers. So when a user visits a website using a CDN, the request is routed to the nearest possible edge server, reducing latency and serving up content quicker.
For website owners who have visitors from all over the world, CDNs can help ensure a faster site experience, especially when you take into account that on average, 80% of a website consists of static resources.
Content Delivery Networks
When choosing a CDN, it’s important to work out your needs, in particular where your visitors are predominantly located along with your bandwidth requirements, so you can pick the CDN that will best serve your audience.
Other considerations include how much you want to spend and how big your site is.
Cloudflare has grown substantially in recent years as a “next generation” CDN, boasting 118 data centers around the world. The company’s focus is largely on providing a CDN and security platform that integrates with emerging technology, ensuring users have access to the most advanced protocols on the web.
On average, a site using Cloudflare will load nearly twice as fast for visitors, have 65% fewer requests, and save 60% of bandwidth. How? By caching your site’s static content and using Anycast, a global network that enables multiple machines to share the same IP address. When a request is sent to an Anycast IP address, routers direct it to the closest machine on the network.
One of Cloudflare’s best features is its flat-rate approach to pricing. Unlike many CDNs, it doesn’t charge for additional bandwidth, even if your site experiences an unexpected surge in traffic. This means predictable billing and not having to worry about extra bandwidth charges.
Cloudflare is highly regarded as one of the best CDN options for WordPress, due in large part to the fact it offers a free plan for personal websites, blogs and anyone wanting to give the CDN a try. However, if you want better performance it’s worth upgrading to the Pro plan ($20/month per domain) or the Business plan ($200/month).
Amazon CloudFront provides businesses and developers access to the highly scalable, reliable, secure and fast infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of websites.
Using its global network of 98 edge locations, you can use CloudFront to deliver all of your site content, including the dynamic portions of your site that change for each user. You can also configure multiple origin servers and multiple cache behaviors based on URL path patterns on your website.
CloudFront has some fantastic features: enhanced security (a given when you’re working with Amazon), streaming features for audio and video (both on-demand and live), as well as reporting and analytics.
Like other AWS services, you only pay for what you use with Amazon CloudFront. New AWS customers get 50GB Data Transfer Out and 2,000,000 HTTP and HTTPS requests each month for one year.
MaxCDN / StackPath
MaxCDN was acquired last year by StackPath, a security-as-a-service startup. For the purposes of this article, I’ve focused on MaxCDN’s services.
MaxCDN has been a long-time popular option amongst both WordPress users and DevOps for good reason – its reliable network has reach into 90 countries with high peering capacity to handle any given load around the world.
The CDN’s MultiPath Network technology boasts intelligent best-path routing and on-the-fly analytics to monitor packet loss and latency. On top of that, MaxCDN uses Anycast routing and custom FastStack technology powered by highly optimized NGINX caching on 100% SSD bare metal servers.
That’s a lot of buzzwords if you’re unfamiliar with server technology, so here are some of MaxCDN’s user-friendly features: comprehensive analytics, enhanced security, you can control how your content behaves on every edge server with EdgeRules technology, and SSL options.
Pricing starts at $9/month for an Entrepreneur plan, $299/month for a Professional plan, and per-gigabyte pricing for custom plans.
KeyCDN is also a popular option with WordPress users and has comparable features to MaxCDN. While its network isn’t quite as big (especially since StackPath came along), KeyCDN offers easy pay-as-you-go pricing, which can work out cheaper.
Built with a focus on high performance, KeyCDN uses a customized TCP stack, Anycast technology and geolocation routing. It’s also reliable and secure – requests are routed to the nearest available POP, while providing industry-leading encryption standards and two-factor authentication.
Like Cloudflare and MaxCDN, KeyCDN uses 100% SSD for lower latency. Other features include a powerful management dashboard with real-time reporting, analytics and account usage.
Incapsula is popular for its enterprise-level security features that you get in addition to its super fact CDN service. On top of its PCI certified firewall, the security features include smart DDoS protection and load balancing.
The CDN has 40 data centers around the world, handling 11 million requests per minute. According to Incapsula, websites that use the CDN typically perform 50% faster while consuming 40%-70% less bandwidth.
With the CDN’s powerful dashboard, you can view the traffic, performance and security of your site in real-time. You can also access detailed activity logs.
Pricing starts at $59/month per site for the Pro Plan and $299/month per site for the business plan.
Compared to all of the other options on this list, CDN77 is the youngest – the company launched in 2012 with just 3 data centers and now boasts 32.
With its customer-centric approach and fair, transparent pricing policy CDN77 provides an impressive suite of features, including website acceleration, software distribution, video on-demand, live streaming, private CDN and DDoS mitigation. Unlike other CDNs, CDN77 also offers specialized services for uninterrupted gaming delivery.
CDN77 was also the first CDN to support HTTP/2 and Brotli, as well as Let’s Encrypt.
You can get started with a free trial. Pay-as-you-go pricing starts at $0.049 for 1GB, with different rates for different countries. There’s no minimum monthly uses, no charges for HTTP/S requests, and you can turn any PoP on or offer in the network to manage your budget.
IBM Cloud CDN (formerly SoftLayer)
Like Amazon CloudFront, IBM Bluemix offers a CDN service backed by a big name – IBM.
Formerly known as SoftLayer, IBM has officially integrated the popular CDN into its Bluemix suite of cloud infrastructure services.
IBM has partnered with Akamai, a “best of breed” CDN provider, to create one of the world’s fastest and most reliable CDNs, not to mention largest at 2,416 data centers.
You get all the features you’d expect of a huge CDN. Every cloud server comes with a guaranteed 2.0Ghz (or faster) core – allocated with 1:1 virtual-to-physical resources and no over-subscriptions.
Pricing is pay-as-you-go, starting at $0.085 for the first 10TB.
Unlike the other CDNs on this list, jsDelivr uses a unique Multi-CDN infrastructure built on top of CDN networks provided by StackPath, Cloudflare, Fastly, and Quantil. Additionally, it uses custom servers in locations where CDNs have little or no presence.
jsDelivr’s smart load balancing system ensures the best possible uptime and performance. Each time a user downloads a file from jsDelivr, the CDN’s algorithm figures out the optimal provider for that particular user and that particular time based on the performance and availability data for the last few minutes. All that happens within a few milliseconds.
CDNs have helped solved the internet’s problem of geographical distance between users and servers. Now, anyone can access and load a site’s content as if the server was located in the same city – as long as it’s been stored on an edge server nearby.
If you’re still not sure which CDN best suits you, here’s a quick guide based on website size:
- If you run a small to medium-sized website (around 40,000-50,000 page views), most of the options on this list will serve you well.
- Services such as Amazon CloudFront and IBM Cloud CDN are better suited to enterprise level sites.
- If you offer streaming media, such as video, audio and gaming, your best options are Amazon CloudFront and CDN77.
- And if your site has minimal traffic, check out jsDelivr or CloudFlare’s free plan.