What is a CDN and how does it work?
A content delivery network (CDN) is a service which makes the static content of your website i.e. Java Script, images, videos, and CSS load much faster on visitor’s browser. The CDN provider copies your site's static content in their servers which are tactically located among the technologically advanced regions, all around the globe. When a visitor requests your site, the static content is served from the sever which is physically located closest to the visitor thereby dramatically reducing the load time.
Benefits of using a CDN:
Now that you know what a CDN is, here are the top three reasons to use a CDN:
- Website loads in a breeze, thereby providing the best experience for your user
- Minimal pressure on actual hosting server as the requests of static files are handled through the CDN
- You save a lot of bandwidth in your hosting server (CDN bandwidth is different than your hosting provider's bandwidth)
- Better Google rankings: A faster page is more likely to be ranked better than its slower counterpart
Premium CDN Services for WordPress
MaxCDN is one of the most popular CDN services in the business. Starting at $39.95 a year for the first terabyte (that's 1024 GB) of bandwidth, MaxCDN is the first choice for most bloggers. It easily integrates with WordPress (we have a guide right here), Joomla, Drupal and others and comes with a pay-as-you-go option. After one year, the pricing increases to $99 a year for a terabyte - which is still quite competitive considering the other providers. Approximately, your blog should last 18 months with 1 TB of data at 60,000 visitors a month!
Companies like WPEngine, TheNextWeb and stackOverflow use MaxCDN as their bandwidth provider. We use MaxCDN too!
Tech Specs: MaxCDN is actually a brand of NetDNA one of the world's leading CDN networks. MaxCDN aims towards individual consumers whereas NetDNA is targeted at enterprise customers in long-term agreements.
2. Rackspace Cloud Files
Rackspace is a well known CDN provider service for their flexible pricing and superior network. Starting at 18 cents/GB for CDN and 10 cents/GB for storage, their service should cost you around 18 dollars a month for 1GB of storage and 100GB of transfer. That's quite cheap! Take a look at their savings calculator (compared to AWS) and WordPress setup guide if you're thinking of trying them out. With 24x7 chat, phone, ticket support and a 100% network up-time guarantee, Rackspace is a pretty great choice.
Tech Specs: Rackspace CDN service is powered by the Akamai network. Akamai is the world's leader in content distribution - with 84,000 servers in 1,000 networks across 72 countries - you certainly can't go wrong with that.
3. Amazon S3
Enter the world's most popular on-demand cloud computation provider - Amazon Web Services (AWS). The Amazon S3 storage solution is cost effective both in terms of storage and bandwidth. For storage its $0.095 per GB/month and the bandwidth is free upto 1 GB. After that, itss 12 cents/GB/month. Both storage and bandwidth costs reduce with increase in data volume. If most of your visitors are from the US and you don't mind different load times for them, then Amazon S3 is just fine for you.
4. Amazon CloudFront
However, if you want all your visitors to have the fastest experience, no matter where they come from, then you're going to have to use Amazon's CDN service called Amazon CloudFront. This can get pricey:
The normal bandwidth prices for Amazon S3 is 12 cents/GB. Coupled with CloudFront CDN, the price goes up by another 12 cents - summing to 24 cents/GB for US & EU traffic. Asia traffic is 20 cents/GB on top of your normal 15 cents. This pricing model makes CloudFront one of the priciest CDN out there. Plus there's no 24x7 live support and with the complex setup model CloudFront is intended for developers and enterprises.
One of the fastest growing managed hosting providers in the market with extremely competitive pricing, VPS.net deserves a number 4 position. However, you must purchase their basic cloud hosting package which starts at 20 USD per month which gives you 1.2 GHz CPU, 376 MB of RAM, 10GB storage and 1 TB non-CDN network transfer - plus the ability to chose from 20 different locations. Starting at $34.95 for 1 TB bandwidth, coupled with 24x7 support, VPS.net is an awesome service!
Tech Specs: VPS.net uses the Level3 network, which is not as extensive as the Akamai network Rackspace uses. But, Level3 has hundreds of nodes around the globe, so you're still covered on every continent.
If speed is your top priority and your pockets run deep, then CacheFly is the one for you. Industry standard for conducting raw download speed tests, real-time monitoring and a 10 minute setup, CacheFly is the first name that comes to mind if you're looking for a speedy CDN. Companies like LG, Toyota, Adobe and Microsoft use Cachefly. Plans start at $99 a month for 256 GB bandwidth and 1 GB storage. High volume data plans start from $0.03/GB.
Tech Specs: CacheFly uses their own Global Network covering every continent and guarantees 100% availability by their SLA.
Best known for its free CDN service CloudFlare is definitely a good alternative. With a well placed global network CloudFlare has been in the business for the past 15 years. A unique feature of this company is that they do not charge you for bandwidth (how or why I do not know) - rather, they come with a flat rate plan as shown in their pricing menu. Apart from the free service, the paid plans start from $20 per month for the first site and and then an extra $5 for each new site.
Apart from CDN, CloudFlare provides you with the following services:
- Website protection from DDoS attacks, MySQL injections and blocks a wide range of known malicious IP addresses.
- Detailed site analytics
- Level 3, 4 and 7 DDoS protection in their Business and Enterprise level plans
- Mobile site optimization
- Integrates a popular web apps such as Google Analytics, Clicky Web Analytics, SiteLock and many more.
Softlayer's brand of CDN - CloudLayer is the latest cloud service from the leading dedicated server provider - SoftLayer. Their network is spread across 24 nodes in the cloud to provide low latency, high speed end-user experience. Plans start at 12 cents/GB and comes with phone and email support. They also have 2 introductory PDFs - be sure to check them out before purchasing!
9. Google PageSpeed
Though its not in the limelight yet, Google's PageSpeed Service should catch on pretty fast. Powered by Google's own worldwide network, PageSpeed is intended towards developers (just like AWS) rather than a pay-as-you-go WordPress ready solution (like MaxCDN). Much to the developer's comfort, it comes with a plethora of online documentation. This service is catching on pretty fast, and f you're in the mood for experimentation, treat yourself Google PageSpeed!
Tech Specs: However there are some pitfalls to the service:
- You can’t use it on bare domains that don’t include the prefix www, so you must use www.wplift.com instead of wplift.com.
- HTTPS pages are not supported
- Websites hosted on Blogger, Google Sites or Google App Engine are not supported
- Flash, streaming audio and video content and files over 50MB are not supported
- POST requests greater than 2MB are not supported
CloudCache’s key advantage over other CDN providers is their hardware. Their typical servers have 96 GB RAM, hexcore CPUs and SSDs for unparalleled transfer speed and computing power. Starting at $12 a month for 200GB bandwidth, coupled with live chat and phone support and with 500 peering partners worldwide spread over 90 countries, CloudCache offers an attractive service.
Launched in March 2012 CDN77 is a low-cost CDN provider that uses the Onapp platform for static file delivery and on-demand HD video streaming. They operate out of London and have 65+ POPs around the world, including quite a few in Eastern Europe. They have excellent comparisons with popular brands like MaxCDN and CloudFront and offer phone and email support. Starting at $49/TB per month for US and EU region, CDN77 also offers a free 14-day trial. With their price calculator, you can order custom plans too!
TinyCDN is one of those providers that leverage the power of Amazon Web Services to provide you with a simple user interface, competitive pricing (although slightly higher than the rest) and most importantly a 30 day free trial.
Starting at $9.95 per month for 500 MB storage and 10 GB transfer and phone support, you can definitely give this service a try.
Visit TinyCDN »
13. (mt) Media Temple
Media Template is one of the most popular managed hosting providers in the business. Their brand of CDN, called ProCDN is spread across 19 locations on 4 continents and starts at $20 per month with 200 GB of bandwidth. However, you must be subscribed to their basic hosting service which costs $20 per month.
Tech Specs: Media Template runs on the EdgeCast network which is a leading content delivery provider. Companies like WordPress.com (yes), Yahoo, Technorati, Tumblr and SoundCloud use EdgeCast! Rest assured, you're in pretty good hands.
Free CDN Services for WordPress
Under this section, I'm going to show you how to leverage some of the free services available in the web in order to speed up your website and cut your bandwidth costs.
1. Photon by WordPress
(Thanks to Dave for pointing this out) If you're on a self hosted WordPress platform, chances are that you've already installed JetPack with is an amazing plugin with a plethora of features starting from Socialize to Photon. Photon is a free CDN offered by WordPress.com. All your post's images are copied and served from WordPress.com's cloud infrastructure thereby reducing your bandwidth consumption. This is a must have for all WordPress users.
2. CloudFare's Free Service
As I mentioned before, CloudFlare is better known for its free services and is immensely popular. Its free service improves your site's overall performance, enhances security protection and provides you with powerful analytics. Its got a great WordPress plugin for easy integration and can be configured within minutes.
3. Serving images via imgur and Photobucket
You've probably heard of imgur or Photobucket. They're some of the most popular free image hosting services. The idea here is to host your images in their servers in order to reduce your server's load and bandwidth consumption. imgur is the perfect tool for the job - its pretty easy to use and generating direct links is way simpler compared to Photobucket. Also, Photobucket has a monthly bandwidth limitation for its free users - you could go for their pro account if you need more bandwidth. Both these services provide analytics for every uploaded image.
4. Serving static content through cloud hosting services
5. jsDeliver.com WordPress Plugin
Under the premium CDN services, I would recommend either MaxCDN (99% of the sites I visit use it) or RackSpace. Both of them have competitive pricing and are easy implement for both beginners and intermediates. As for the experts - well, I'm sure they already have a favorite. ;)
Technically speaking, there's no free CDN. The methods discussed under free CDN are only a substitute for websites with minimal traffic and experimentation. If you're facing heavy server load - you should not use free CDN - it wouldn't prove helpful (at all) in the long run. TinyCDN and CDN77 offers trial periods - you could try them out.
Good luck Speedy Gonzales!