Article written by Sufyan bin Uzayr.
If you are running a website that has a lot of images and similar content, a Content Delivery Network might be useful for you as it can help in reducing page load times.
In this article, I shall be taking a look at various CDN options available for WordPress users and making some recommendations at the end. However, before going any further, let us first take a look at the advantages of using a CDN.
Advantages of Using a CDN
Some of the major advantages of using a CDN are as follows:
- Websites load quicker.
- Saves a lot of bandwidth — ideal for heavy traffic websites or those with limited shared hosting accounts.
- Less pressure on your hosting server.
With the introduction out of the way, let us now take a look at some of the major Content Delivery Networks.
MaxCDN is a very popular and well known CDN service. A part of NetDNA network, MaxCDN powers the likes of WP Engine and The Next Web. It integrates well with most CMSs, such as Joomla!, Drupal and obviously WordPress. In fact, if you are looking for a paid CDN option, MaxCDN should be in your shortlist simply on account of its reputation.
- Pricing: The Starter Plan starts at $9/month for 2 sites, and offers 100 GB/month of bandwidth.
- Free Plan: No.
Unlike MaxCDN, CloudFlare offers both free and paid plans. The company has been around for over 15 years now and CloudFlare is a very popular choice when it comes to CDN providers. Once again, unlike most other CDN providers, CloudFlare does not charge you on the basis of bandwidth. Instead, it charges on a per website basis.
- Pricing: CloudFlare Pro Plan starts at $20 per month for first website, and $5 per additional website.
- Free Plan: Yes.
3. Photon by Jetpack
Photon is a WordPress-only image caching service. You will need the Jetpack plugin on your site in order to make use of Photon. The caching abilities of Photon are quite impressive, though it works only on images in posts and featured images (post thumbnails). So if all you need is a service that can speed up the load times for your blog’s images, Photon can, indeed, be useful.
- Pricing: Free (Available only to WordPress users with Jetpack installed).
- Free Plan: Obviously, yes.
4. Rackspace Cloud Files
Powered by the Akamai CDN, Rackspace Cloud Files is an online storage network for media files. Speaking of Akamai, they have over 82,000 servers across 70+ countries; naturally, Rackspace Cloud Files is a great choice for those who need top-notch CDN services (most likely businesses and enterprises). Rackspace also has a special setup guide for WordPress users.
- Pricing: The pricing model is pay-as-you-go, and it starts at 10 cents per GB for storage, and 18 cents per GB for CDN (both billed monthly).
- Free Plan: No.
CacheFly is a renowned CDN service. LG, Microsoft and Adobe rely on CacheFly. In terms of features, CacheFly comes with a ten minute setup and real-time monitoring. However, on the downside, CacheFly is also one of the most expensive CDN options.
- Pricing: Plus Plan costs $99 per month and offers 256 GB of bandwidth transfer.
- Free Plan: No.
CloudLayer comes from the stable of SoftLayer, a dedicated hosting provider. CloudLayer makes use of multiple nodes all across the globe to dynamically serve your cached content to the visitors. Just like SoftLayer’s other offerings, CloudLayer too comes with phone and email support.
- Pricing: $0.12 per GB monthly for the Standard Plan.
- Free Plan: No.
CloudCache has over 500 peering partners across 90+ countries. Quite clearly, CloudCache has a decent CDN prowess. Their hardware is pretty decent too: 96 GB of RAM with hexcore CPUs.
- Pricing: Plus Plan comes for $49 per month, with 500 GB of bandwidth and 5 GB of storage.
- Free Plan: No
8. Google PageSpeed
Google PageSpeed is a relatively lesser known concept that can be used as a CDN. Unlike all others in the business, PageSpeed is meant entirely for developers. Still in its initial stages, PageSpeed is not yet ready for multipurpose usage: you cannot send POST requests greater than 2 MB, or have Flash and streaming audio/video or files over 50 MB. Plus, PageSpeed does not support HTTPS pages as of now.
- Pricing: Free.
- Free Plan: Yes.
TinyCDN relies on Amazon Web Services to offer CDN services to its users. The pricing is slightly higher than many other CDN providers, though considering the fact that Amazon Web Services is one of the most reputable players in its league, TinyCDN obviously seems reliable.
- Pricing: Starter Kit is available for $9.95 per month and offers 500 MB storage and 10 GB transfer.
- Free Plan: Trial offer for 100 MB storage and 1 GB transfer.
10. Amazon Web Services
Basically, Amazon has two offerings in this section. First up, you can opt for Amazon S3, a budget-friendly storage solution. Amazon S3 can prove helpful for websites that receive majority of their traffic from USA.
Secondly, Amazon also offers CloudFront for content delivery. CloudFront is one of the most reliable as well as most expensive CDN options out there, so you might consider opting for it if you need blazing fast CDN and pricing is not a barrier for you. Be warned though, Amazon CloudFront is basically meant for developers and enterprises and does not offer much 24×7 support for end users.
- Pricing: Amazon S3 Standard Storage begins with $0.095 per GB upto 1 TB per month. Amazon CloudFront starts at $0.12 per month for the first 10 TB for US customers. For other regions, check the pricing here.
- Free Plan: Limited features and services available here.
CDN77 is barely a year old, so if you feel unsure about betting on new horses, it might not be for you.
That said, CDN77 relies on OnApp, which helps in static file delivery as well as HD video streaming. In fact, if you are into video blogging, CDN77 can prove very useful for you, because it is one of the very few CDN options that offer specialized services for HD video streaming. Oh, and they are also confident enough to compare themselves with MaxCDN and Amazon.
- Pricing: For a website based in USA or EU, you will need to pay $49 per TB per month.
- Free Plan: None, but there is a 14-day trial.
Incapsula is a unique service in the sense that it offers much more than CDN: website security, DDoS protection, web application firewall, and much more! All you need to do is add few lines of information to your domain’s DNS, and Incapsula is ready for action!
Thus, if you are looking for an easy solution that can help you monitor the overall health of your website, Incapsula is worth a look! In terms of CDN, by the way, it offers both static and dynamic content caching. However, considering the fact that Incapsula is not yet as old as Amazon or MaxCDN, its network distribution servers are slightly lesser in number.
- Pricing: Personal Plan starts at $9 per month, and offers 500 GB monthly bandwidth.
- Free Plan: Yes, includes CDN and security features but no web app firewall or enterprise features.
jsDelivr also has a WordPress plugin.
- Pricing: Free
- Free Plan: Yes.
14. EdgeCast CDN
EdgeCast CDN is used by Technorati, Yahoo!, Tumblr and, most importantly, WordPress.com Naturally, if nothing else, using EdgeCast will surely put you in good company!
However, EdgeCast is more of an enterprise-level CDN solution: firms such as MediaTemple rely on EdgeCast CDN model as well.
- Pricing: Multiple solutions with custom pricing.
- Free Plan: No.
Now, since we have already taken a look at most CDNs, what should we expect?
When trying to choose a CDN provider, most people tend to have two broad considerations: speed and bandwidth. In terms of speed, the general notion is to opt for a provider that offers server locations in close geographical proximity to your target audience. Most CDN providers have USA, EU and Asia Pacific covered, but if you are looking for a region in particular (let us say, Africa), the best choice to opt for the bigger names such as Amazon CloudFront, simply because they have more servers than most others.
What about bandwidth? Try to assess your bandwidth usage by looking at the stats in your hosting control panel. If your website consumes 2 GB bandwidth per month, purchasing a CDN plan with 1TB makes little sense. A word of caution, though: always make sure that your CDN plan is future-proof. If you need 30 GB monthly bandwidth as of now, you can consider investing in a 50 GB plan, so that as and when your website grows (or just in case you get featured in Time Magazine), you do not end up spending a sleepless night over bandwidth shortage.
Speaking of pricing models, some providers offer a pay-per-site plan (such as CloudFlare), whereas most others charge on the basis of bandwidth. Which is better? Basically, both have their own merits and demerits. Bandwidth-based pricing model is generally considered to be more suited for those who have a single, or maybe a couple, of heavy traffic websites (let us say, over a million pageviews). You can setup your CDN service for your site, and save hosting bandwidth as well as get faster page loading speeds. Pay-per-website model, on the other hand, can be a smart choice if you have multiple websites with heavy traffic. Generally, providers such as CloudFlare offer discounted rates for subsequent websites, so you can save a few bucks with the pay-per-website model.
An additional point worth considering is real-time monitoring. Frankly put, if your CDN provider does not offer real-time monitoring features, dump it! Almost every CDN service nowadays offers real-time stats and analytics and even though you can rely on Google Analytics for getting info about your traffic, real-time monitoring is a must-have when it comes to CDN (unless you have opted for a free plan).
So, which one should you use?
Ideally, if you are running a medium-sized blog (say, 40,000 to 50,000 page hits), MaxCDN should suffice for all your needs. Services such as EdgeCast and Amazon CloudFront, though pretty reliable and excellent, are enterprise solutions, and as a result, will be overkill for a small- to medium-sized blog.
CloudFlare is a decent pick as well, and is pretty popular on account of its tie-ups with major hosting firms (pick any shared hosting package, chances are, you will find CloudFlare icon in the Control Panel). CloudFlare also has a nifty free plan, though personally, I would suggest paying for CDN if you really are serious about it. ‘You get what you pay for’, and a free CDN can only work for super-small websites with little traffic.
Speaking of free CDN, however, Jetpack Photon is an ideal pick, and is an exception to the above norm. Most WordPress users nowadays rely on Jetpack for stats and many other features, and all you have to do is activate Photon. If you primarily share images, Photon might be apt for you. Also, if you are sharing HD videos, CDN77 is worth a look.
One amazing entity in this list is Incapsula. It is not so popular as of now (in comparison to the rest), but it also offers great security features, and it is only a matter of time before it gains momentum. Considering the fact that large number of WP websites are hacked each day, having a provider that can take care of both your CDN and security needs is an added advantage. You can use Incapsula’s free plan as a trial of their features. In fact, if you are freelance web developer or agency and you need a CDN provider for your clients, Incapsula can be a good choice on account of its simple setup (all you have to do is add a few simple lines of code to the DNS record of the domain) and its added features such as security, DDoS protection, etc.
Lastly, if you need some realtime tests to compare CDN providers and their offerings, Cloud Harmony has got you covered. Their speed test lets you perform speed tests on over 25 CDN providers. You can download large files (this can help you assess a CDN’s viability for video streaming, etc), download various small files (helpful if you wish to use the CDN for a photo blog), check network latency or even upload files (to check network storage capabilities). CDN Finder also has a comparative table of data related to most CDN services grouped under various heads, such as Dynamic or Static Caching, Mobile Features, Security, Streaming Capabilities, and so on.