Choosing a CDN in a whim

I had to look into CDN’s some time ago, to find a suitable temporary solution for a problem at work. There are a lot of players in this field, Akamai and Amazon (Cloudfront) being market leaders of some sort, but there’s also Microsoft with their Azure CDN (which we already had some experience with), other big guns such as Rackspace and Level3 and specialized shops such as CacheFly, CDNetworks and NetDNA as well. So how to choose?

Results only relevant for Belgium (and even then …) avg. speed (ms) for 64kB speed delta % from fastest
softlayer 121.3 100%
gogrid 123.0 101%
microsoft azure 132.0 109%
level3 132.0 109%
amazon cloudfront 133.3 110%
maxcdn 136.7 113%
cotendo 138.7 114%
cachefly 147.3 121%
rackspace 156.3 129%
highwinds 226.3 187%
voxcast 227.7 188%
flexiscale 317.3 262%
amazon s3 eu 417.3 344%
invalid result
575.0 NA 474% NA
google appspot 668.0 551%
voxel nl 814.0 671%
amazon s3 us 932.0 768%
voxel ny 942.0 776%

Well, if you’re in a hurry, you could compare price and features via The info might not always be complete, but it does give you a good first idea and you can always visit the CDN’s proper site for more details, can’t you?

After comparing features & pricing, you really should get an idea of the speed of these CDN’s, of their performance relative to your customers. I found this CDN Speed Test on very useful; it performs a live test of approximately 20 CDN providers, requesting a 64 kilobyte file 10 times for each CDN from within your browser. So if you can get a sample of your customers to perform that test and provide you with the results, you’ll have some very useful information about performance. Together with your overview of features and price, you should be able to make at least a vaguely educated decision, no?

To have an idea about performance for our market (Belgium), I asked some Facebook-friends to provide me with the results of the CDN Speed Test. Most data I received was for Telenet or Skynet/Belgacom, not coincidentally the biggest ISP’s here. You can see the aggregated results in that ugly table on the left (or a couple of paragraphs up, if you’re subscribed to the RSS-feed).

My conclusion: as I was looking for a pay-as-you-go (no obligations, no monthly fee) CDN for static files, with support for Origin-Pull, HTTPS and some administration features (for example to purge the cache and watch nice graphs), MaxCDN fit the picture pretty well. With a great introductory price ($40 for the first Terabyte and even less if you find the coupon code) and performance that is at 113% of the fastest competitor, they seem to have found somewhat of a sweet spot for my specific context.

The only problem; I’ve got to wait for a “GO” from some people higher up the food chain. Maybe I should already implement it on my blog, just for the fun of it?

14 thoughts on “Choosing a CDN in a whim

  1. Pieter Coucke

    Good to see this comparison. Amazon cloudfront is constantly adding new edge locations, so this table may look different within a few months…
    I guess the results may be completely different when ran from Ireland for example, but that was probably the point of this post :-D

    1. frank Post author

      Indeed. But what surprised me is that the number of edge locations does not seem to be that much a decisive element when it comes to performance. Routing between an edge location and the customer seems at least equally important (cfr. MaxCDN with currently only one Edge location in Europe). And indeed, performance in another country (or with another ISP) could indeed be completely different.

      Oh, and congrats with! :-)

  2. Nicolas

    Frank, when it comes to bang-for-your-bucks you probably cannot beat the excellent CloudFlare service: 20 USD a month for your first site, 5 USD for the others with NO TRAFFIC LIMIT.
    They don’t have the most extensive network (but they are growing very fast) or the most comprehensive product offering (but the setup takes minutes, not days), BUT their service is very reliable, their support people are stellar, the setup is ├╝ber-simple and you get lots of added features for that (very very low) price: threat mitigation, (optional) html gzip compression, great DNS management, and lots more.
    We have been using it for several moderate-to-high traffic sites (like for the last 6 months or so and couldn’t be happier with it.

    1. frank Post author

      Hi N :) CloudFlare indeed is an interesting (and far-reaching) alternative, but based on the tests I ran they’re not as fast as “pure CDN-players” (474% the speed of softlayer).

  3. Josh

    Hi, I came back to make a comment about your plugin youtube lyte, but i will leave comment tomorrow as i just wanted to reply to this post.

    I previously used maxcdn and found them to be ok, however, i was a little annoyed because i thought the 1tb of bandwidth i was getting was going to last me until it expired. What i didn’t realise is that it only lasted for a year, and towards the end of the year their sales team gets really pushy about you upgrading. So i’m not going to use them again as i feel like i was tricked.

    Recently though, i signed up with CloudFlare, and i must say i am extremely impressed. It is free and just as fast as MaxCDN from my own subjective viewpoint. Very happy with them, so i would defintely try Cloudflare first and see how you get on with them. Was also very easy to set-up.

    1. frank Post author

      Thanks for the feedback Josh! Cloudflare indeed is a nice solution, but it’s much more then I need (or can do) in my case. Moreover, based on the (non-scientific) tests performed in my region (see the ugly table in the blogpost itself), it was significantly slower for hosting pure static (64kB) files.

    1. frank Post author

      I checked out firebug’s output; it’s a gif. Weird thing is, I can’t confirm (or deny) the file indeed is served by Cloudflare. I’ve contacted Paessler for confirmation.

    1. frank Post author

      Just got confirmation from Paessler that the image indeed is not on Clourflare any more, they’ll adapt the test. I’ll be happy to re-run the test once they have an image on Cloudflare :-)

  4. Dan

    MaxCDN is nice, but has a ton of features you have to pay for additionally. has a flatter pricing, cheaper too. You don’t have them in your table, so not sure about their performance, but based on the number of edges in Europe it should be better or on par with MaxCDN.

  5. Stas

    What with reduce costs with p2p solutions? Did you tested Giraffic?
    They provide free limited account on their site.

    1. frank Post author

      Hadn’t heard from Giraffic yet, but had a quick at their site and while this seems of little use for typical website offloading, this does seem interesting for video.


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