Best CDN Services for Smaller Websites

December 5th, 2011 Leave a comment 6 comments
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It seems everyone is talking about the cloud and CDNs nowadays, pushing terabytes of data and trying to squeeze every millisecond of performance from their websites. Using a Content Deliver Network, or CDN, is a great and inexpensive way to speed up any site. If you think your site is too small for CDN, you are almost certainly wrong. CDNs greatly improve the speed up your site, creating a great user experience that every visitor to your site deserves, regardless of how small your site may be. More recently, speed has also become important for Search Engine Rankings, with Google and Bing factoring websites’ response times in their ranking algorithms. Here, at LearnComputer, we’ve chosen Amazon CloudFront as our CDN, and together with the W3 Total Cache WordPress plugin, it has made a tremendous difference in our site’s performance! CloudFront is not the only viable choice for CDN, however. Below, are reviews of the top 5 CDNs we’ve mocked around with that we would recommend for your sites.

1. Amazon S3/CloudFront

Amazon Web Services Console

After many of their users began using S3 as a CDN, Amazon realized that there was a market for a CDN in their portfolio and they launched CloudFront. S3, though a great platform, isn’t really suited for being a CDN, nor is it optimized for one. On the other hand, CloudFront’s objective is to be an affordable, easy-to-use CDN for its users, and Amazon hasn’t disappointed: thus far, Cloudfront has been a stable and fast CDN for a great deal of users, including us here at learncomputer.com: we’ve been using CloudFront for some time now, and it has been very fast and very effective. With an entry-level price point of $0.12 a gigabyte and no commitments, CloudFront is an attractive CDN, especially for small business. Try it and see if it’s for you and your company: at $0.21 a GB with no commitment, it’s a great, low-cost way to test the waters!

Here are a couple of fresh Pingdom tests of learncomputer.com run from Amsterdam, Netherlands. In the first test, both the caching and CDN are disabled and all pages are served directly by the local Apache server (the physical machine is located in South Lake City, Utah). In the second test, both caching and CDN are enabled.

As you can see, the performance difference between the two tests is quite impressive:

CACHING AND CDN DISABLED. Load Time: 5.53s.

CACHING AND CDN ENABLED. Load Time: 999ms.

While Amazon S3/CloudFront combo may not be the easiest to set up, it offers a reliable and inexpensive content delivery service that you can use worry-free.

2. MaxCDN

MaxCDN Console

Another budget provider, MaxCDN offers competitive pricing to NetDNA: just $0.07 per gigabyte as an entry level price point, which isn’t too shabby at all! Setup is a breeze, though in the past MaxCDN has had some growing pains: there are, now and then, reviews that complain of slow customer support or caching that doesn’t really seem to help speeds around the world. As of late, however, MaxCDN has become one of the faster CDNs out there: some recent benchmarks show them in the top 10 for CDNs, and those benchmarks also include enterprise-level CDNs that cost way more per GB than MaxCDN. Most reviewers are satisfied with MaxCDN (and most definitely their price), and they’re definitely worth a look if you need a CDN but can’t handle those sometimes outrageous price points!

3. Google Page Speed

Google Page Speed Dashboard

OK, you’re right: technically, Google’s Page Speed service isn’t a CDN in the strict sense of “content delivery network”. Instead of just putting your material on their websites to get to your user-base faster, Google’s Page Speed Service actually optimizes the content as it’s delivered: Google’s fancy algorithms run on your website, and optimize pieces of code that traditionally slow things down, like CSS, as well as compressing images and doing other various small optimizations. Once that’s done, Google uploads your content to its servers and feeds it super-fast to your users! It is a paid service, though they do offer a free trial: definitely use the free trial, because some reports have said that Google’s Page Speed actually reports slower loading for their websites (though others report it to be much faster). Since they do offer a trial, take it for a test spin and see if Google Page Speed is right for you!

4. VPS.NET CDN

VPS.NET Level 3 CDN

VPS.NET has long been known as a quality VPS provider, and their CDN keeps up that tradition: it’s easy to sign up and get started with VPS.net’s CDN services. Using their trademark “node” system that they also use for their VPSes, you can scale up or down the CDN “nodes” that you need. Their pricing plan starts out at a very reasonable $34.95 a month for 1TB of network transfer, and they’re no slouches are far as speed goes: a great many reviews talk about how quickly their pages loaded after they started using VPS.net’s CDN, with one user even seeing page load times shrink from 7 seconds on average to 1.5 seconds on average. This one’s definitely worth a look to anyone looking to get into the CDN side of their web hosting!

If you are interested in more than just CDN, see our VPS.NET review for a more detailed rundown of their service offerings. The article details our experience with VPS.NET after having used their Cloud servers for over a year.

5. SoftLayer CloudLayer CDN

SoftLayer CloudLayer CDN

SoftLayer’s well-known for their top-notch dedicated server usage, and it looks like their CDN is quality as well: in testing, their CDN regularly hits the top 5 in terms of fastest average content distribution across the globe. They also offer a “PoP Pull” solution for clients with customers around the globe, a slightly pricier solution that keeps data cached on 21 nodes across the globe to ensure the fastest retrieval possible despite the user’s region. Their service, however, is a tad pricy: it’s $45 for the first 250GB, and that’s just for origin pulls, not PoP pulls- this service, though high-quality, isn’t for the faint of wallet. That said, however, it’s definitely worth a look if you’ve got a large worldwide userbase, and it should rank high on anybody’s CDNs to take a look at!

Conclusion

I’ll close with a quote from Joost De Valk, one of my all-time favorite bloggers,

…if you ask me, EVERY site needs a CDN. The point is: if every page loads faster, even a few visitors will have a better experience, making them view more pages and more likely to promote your site. Since you pay a CDN by the bandwidth you use, other than your hosting package, there’s less cost for small sites too. So, in my opinion, you should “just” do it!

So, in the end, the question of whether or not to use a CDN is really a moot one. Just take the plunge and never look back! We hope this list has proven useful to budding CDN users, and that it makes your search for the right CDN for your business easier and less stressful!

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6 comments

  1. Galit says:

    Hi,
    You say: “Here, at LearnComputer, we’ve chosen Amazon CloudFront as our CDN, and together with the W3 Total Cache WordPress plugin, it has made a tremendous difference in our site’s performance”, so I went to GTmetrix and checked it, and it seems that your site has much more to improve, it’s grade at Yslow is “F” with only 47%!.
    Those improvements can be done and easily….soon.
    It also means paying less for bandwidth and servers.

    • Michael Dorf says:

      I’m getting a B. Ran the test twice.

      Some of the YSlow suggestions, like “remove unused CSS”, sound great in theory, but are completely impractical in reality. Same CSS files are re-used throughout the site, and it’s almost impossible to know whether a class is being used or not. It may not be used in this specific page, but is used elsewhere on the site, which YSlow doesn’t take into account. Same goes for image sprites. Their benefit is negligible compared to the hassle of converting all your images and CSS to a sprite (not to mention the maintenance nightmare).

      • I agree with your view on Sprites. It doesn’t worth the hassle you face.

        And Galit, don’t fooled by such tools they are good in theory and may not make any difference of speed in reality.

  2. Galit says:

    Interesting, I can see the “B” now too, and that’s mean it’s pretty good as it is.

  3. John says:

    Great, but does CDN mean a replacement of Web Hosting? Does it mean I can move all my HostGator stuff to Amazon?

    • Michael Dorf says:

      No, CDN is used to serve your static content such as images, CSS, and JavaScript. These don’t change frequently and usually comprise the bulk of the content being served. CDN lets you serve them from geographical locations closest to the user so they require minimal time to load.

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