A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, is one of the best ways to speed up your website for visitors around the world with the help of server distribution. But with every CDN promising the fastest website loading speeds and performance, how do you choose the best CDN?
Right here, I’ll conduct a CDN comparison of Cloudflare vs CloudFront vs MaxCDN (now integrated into StackPath) to help you choose which CDN is right for your website.
What is Cloudflare?
Cloudflare is a US-based CDN with servers around the world. Cloudflare is part of the Google Cloud Platform CDN Interconnect Program, which means that 30 Cloudflare servers are connected directly to Google Cloud and offer faster routing than standard Internet connections.
What is CloudFront?
CloudFront is Amazon’s CDN and is closely integrated with Amazon Web Services and Amazon’s S3 cloud storage platform.
At this time, CloudFront has relatively few global servers and is largely focused in the US and Europe.
What is MaxCDN/StackPath?
MaxCDN is a global CDN much like Cloudflare, although their servers are primarily focused in the US and Europe. MaxCDN also boasts collaborations with internet service providers in multiple countries in order to further speed up connections. In addition, MaxCDN is integrated into the broader StackPath platform of secure data services, and now MaxCDN is StackPath.
Cloudflare vs CloudFront vs MaxCDN/StackPath: Comparison
CDN market is definitely a competitive one and that's why you can easily get lost in tons of different Content Delivery Networks, offering the BEST services. So far we know that Cloudflare, CloudFront, and StackPath(MaxCDN) can stand out but which one can be considered the best and why? That's what we'll find out by looking at these service providers from various angles.
CloudFront and MaxCDN offer multiple subscription tiers depending on the amount of your website content that you want to store on their global servers and the amount of bandwidth you expect to need to cater to site visitors. These prices break down as follows:
|Storage & Bandwidth||CloudFront||MaxCDN|
Note that CloudFront pricing does not include technical support, which comes at an additional charge. By default, you only get access to a community forum for help with the CDN service.
Cloudflare, MaxCDN and CloudFront charges based on three different service tiers, none of which depend on bandwidth.
Instead, Cloudflare plans offer varying degrees of upload and download speeds, security, and technical support.
Although Cloudflare has a free option that may be good enough for small websites, the free service is relatively basic and does not offer many of the performance benefits of a paid CDN plan. Paid plans start at $20 per month, which is less expensive compared to low-bandwidth plans from either CloudFront or MaxCDN / StackPath.
With any CDN, the number and global distribution of servers is one of the most important considerations. The more servers a CDN has and the more globally distributed they are, the more likely that your website’s visitors will experience the increased performance allowed by having a closer geographic connection to your site.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind where your website’s visitors are likely to be. If you are targeting customers in China with an e-commerce site, for example, you’ll want to choose a CDN that offers multiple server locations in or near China.
With that in mind, Cloudflare and CloudFront dominate when it comes to having the most server locations overall. Cloudflare currently has 166 data centers, while CloudFront has 165. StackPath lags when it comes to the overall number of data centers, with only 45 points of presence.
The distribution of these servers varies widely among providers, though. Cloudflare is very global, with numerous data centers in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
CloudFront is more concentrated in the US and Europe, although it can compete with Cloudflare in India in particular.
StackPath is primarily concentrated in the US and Europe, with few data centers in South America, Africa, or Asia.
Push vs Pull CDN service
One of the most notable disadvantages of Cloudflare vs MaxCDN and CloudFront is that Cloudflare only offers a push CDN service. This means that you’re responsible for making sure that your website’s content is being delivered to the CDN’s data centers every time a change is made, so that the content is ready in a cached form for potential visitors.
CloudFront and MaxCDN/StackPath also offer pull CDN service, in which a CDN creates a new cache of your website only after a user has tried to access your site through the local data server. While this means that the first visitor to your site will not experience the performance benefits of the CDN, every following user will receive a newly cached version of your site with no effort on your part.
Security is another important consideration when choosing a CDN, and this is one of the areas where Cloudflare, CloudFront and MaxCDN, excels. All Cloudflare plans, including free plans, protect your site against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. An easy to activate ‘I’m Under Attack’ mode challenges visitors to your site to ensure they are human. In addition, basic Cloudflare plans come with a web application firewall and an SSL certificate for your website.
That’s not to say that CloudFront and StackPath don’t offer security for your site, though. CloudFront allows you to restrict access to your site from specific geographic locations, as well as to set alarms for different site usage events. MaxCDN allows you to closely monitor and manage the users, bots, and locations that are accessing your site and to restrict access as needed.
When it comes to analyzing visitor traffic on your cached site around the globe, it’s hard to distinguish between MaxCDN/StackPath vs Cloudflare. Some users may prefer the analytics interface of Cloudflare, as it also identifies where potential threats to your site are coming from.
Both MaxCDN and Cloudflare offer advanced analytics that break down the locations from where your site is being viewed, the content that is being accessed by users, and how users are moving through your site.
CloudFront vs. Cloudflare does not offer as much in the way of visual analytics. There are charts that display content use by visitors to your site, but much of the reporting is related to cache statistics and threat monitoring.
Cloudflare vs MaxCDN - Who Is the Winner?
Cloudflare has the largest number of global data centers and the widest geographic distribution of those servers, making it an ideal choice for reaching website visitors around the world. To compare, MaxCDN has three times smaller selection of server locations. While the lack of a Cloudflare's pull CDN service requires additional work on your part to use the service, this inconvenience is offset for most users by the performance and security benefits of the platform.
MaxCDN can be a good option if your website visitors are primarily located in the US or Europe. However, the lack of data centers in South America, Africa, and Asia, and the higher price of MaxCDN's comparing to Cloudflare limits the competitiveness of this service.
In addition, the availability of a free plan means that you can try out Cloudflare on your website before committing to a more advanced paid plan.
Cloudflare wins this one.
Cloudflare vs CloudFront - Which One To Pick?
This one can be difficult based on server location alone, but the highly visual analytics in Cloudflare push it ahead. That said, CloudFront has strong integration with Amazon Web Services, which can make it advantageous for users already storing content with Amazon.
That being said, Cloudflare is triumphant in this one too. Unless you are already doing some business with Amazon. Then it's more than logical to choose CloudFront.
Did this CDN comparison help you choose between Cloudflare vs CloudFront vs MaxCDN? Let me know in the comments below!