With various CDN providers to choose from it can be difficult to narrow down the one that suits your needs. The best CDN providers distinguish themselves from others by offering cutting-edge features, better pricing, stellar support, etc. We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 CDN providers and outlined what makes them special.
Learn more about each provider by reading their dedicated reviews.
- What To Look for in a CDN Provider
- Top 5 CDN Providers
What To Look for in a CDN Provider
CDN providers are able to differentiate themselves from others with a variety of factors. These include things such as:
- Features provided
- Location/number of POPs
- Support availability & knowledgebase
Each of these factors typically plays a role in the consumer buying process when deciding which CDN to ultimately go with. In this section, we’ll break down each of the factors above and tell you what you should be looking for when deciding on a CDN provider.
CDN providers typically offer an array of features. Depending on your use-case, having a feature-rich CDN may be appealing to you. For example, certain CDNs offer free SSL support, provide Brotli-compression, have the ability to deliver raw logs, can instantly purge your static assets, etc. In certain cases, setting up a feature can require a bit of technical know-how therefore for a novice, an abundance of features may not be immediately necessary. However, as you continue to learn, you may consider a more feature-rich CDN.
Be aware that in some cases, CDN providers will charge for added features while others include all features in their standard bandwidth pricing. A few important features to look out for are:
- Free SSL support
- Origin Shield
- Raw Logs
- DDoS protection
Speed is, of course, a big one. One of the main benefits of using a CDN is the speed improvements it provides. However, comparing the speed differences from one CDN to another isn’t so black and white. You could in theory test a CDN’s speed from various locations around the world and then take the average load time from those results. However, in many cases, websites have visitors coming from a somewhat specific region (e.g. North America, Europe, Australia, etc).
Therefore, it’s a good idea to figure out where the majority of your visitors are coming from and look into which CDN providers offer the best speeds for that region(s).
Going through and testing each CDN provider is a bit easier said than done. However, there are a couple of tools at your disposal you can use to get a general idea of CDN speeds.
The first one is called CDNPerf. With this tool, you can compare the speeds of several different CDN providers either in a worldwide setting or continent-specific.
The second tool available for getting a rough idea of the performance differences between the top CDN providers is called Cedexis. With this tool, you can select a Country to test along with “CDN Response Time”. This will return each major CDN’s median response time (in ms) as well as their availability and percentiles.
The results from both of these tools however should be taken with a grain of salt. For starters, things in the CDN industry can change quite rapidly, meaning that CDN providers may constantly be adding new POPs, improving their network, and reducing latency. Therefore, these tools may not always return the latest results from these changes.
Truly, the best way to test speeds between CDN providers is to signup for their free trials (if one is provided) integrate the CDN with your site, and perform your own tests. Keep track of your results for each provider and then compare them to see which one works best for your use-case. If you would like to run speed tests in a variety of locations, consider using webpagetest which offers a variety of locations to test your site from.
Pricing is another important factor to consider when choosing the best CDN provider for your needs. Certain CDN providers are geared towards large enterprise customers and don’t even display their prices publicly. On the other hand, certain CDN providers are more geared towards small-to-medium sized customers and have their prices reflect this.
When researching pricing you’ll typically find that a CDN provider falls into one of three options:
- Pay as you go (pricing per GB)
- Minimum monthly fee
- Pricing per GB + HTTP requests
Pay as you go pricing is typically the preferred option as customers can simply pay for what they use. In certain cases, customers may find it more convenient to go on a monthly plan that provides them with a certain amount of bandwidth per month however if your site surpasses that amount, you’ll fall into the next highest monthly plan which could end up being more costly than expected.
Lastly, certain CDN providers also charge for a certain number of HTTP/HTTPS requests on top of the price per GB. Therefore, if your company or project makes a lot of HTTP requests you could end up paying an unexpected HTTP(s) requests fee if you weren’t aware of it beforehand.
Location/Number of PoPs
The location and number of PoPs a CDN provider is an extremely important factor to consider before making a purchase decision. This is because the closer a CDN’s PoPs are to your visitors, the faster your site’s assets will load for them. Knowing where your visitors are coming from is the first step in determining which regions you should be looking for in a CDN provider’s network map.
Finding information pertaining to where your visitors are can be fairly easily retrieved from Google Analytics. From there, visit each potential CDN provider’s network map and compare the major regions you found in Google Analytics to the regions defined in the CDN’s network. Finding the closest possible POPs to your visitors will ensure they are delivered content as efficiently as possible.
Having the proper infrastructure in place is a vital part of any CDN provider. When speaking in terms of infrastructure, this is referring to whether the servers are SSD vs HDD, if the CDN has proper redundancy set in place, and what their uptime statistics are.
Checking the CDN provider’s main pages should reveal some if not most of this information while the uptime statistics may be available in their SLA. Otherwise, you can use a site such as CDNPerf to compare the performance and uptime statistics of various popular CDN providers.
Support Availability & Knowledgebase
Knowing that support engineers are readily available whenever you have an issue can take a huge weight off of your shoulders. Imagine you make a slight configuration error during the peak visitors hours of a day and are ensure how to resolve it. Reaching out to a CDN’s support engineer or quickly browsing through their knowledgebase to find the answer to your problem can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to resolve the issue.
The level of support offered by CDN providers can differ. Some offer email support, phone support, dedicated hours support, etc while others are there for you full-time 24/7. If you like having the piece of mind that someone is always just a call or an email away from getting the help you need, make sure to verify what kind of support is offered.
Top 5 CDN Providers
Below is a list of the top 5 CDN providers. This list is organized in no particular order and when it comes to CDNs to say one size fits all is simply not true. Read the short description for each CDN provider below and visit their website or each one’s dedicated reviews to learn more about how they operate and if they’re right for you.
Akamai – Large network, high price
Akamai is currently one of the largest content delivery networks around. They have over 6000 employees thousands of CDN edge servers. This provides them a great deal of coverage. However, although their network is vast, it comes at a cost. Akamai’s pricing information is not publicly available however online sources have mentioned that on average 1TB of traffic will cost you $350.
Akamai does come with a good amount of features although some of these features cost extra. Furthermore, since Akamai is so large, it can take a while for new features to become available.
If you’re running a very large company and have a big budget, Akamai may be worth looking into as a CDN provider. That being said, be prepared to pay a premium for their vast network.
KeyCDN – High performance and cutting-edge features
KeyCDN runs a lean content delivery network that’s focussed on performance and releasing cutting-edge features. With over 25 POPs, their network is very strong in the US and Europe while continuing to grow in other regions. Although KeyCDN does not have the same network size as a large player such as Akamai, their infrastructure is strategically placed and built for speed.
KeyCDN is also keen on keeping an eye out for new technologies. With HTTP/2, Let’s Encrypt and Brotli all supported, users can implement these features to even further increase the speed and security of their sites. KeyCDN’s pricing is also very competitive compared to other larger players. With prices starting at $0.04/GB in the US and EU websites of any size can benefit.
Fastly – Varnish support
Fastly is an investor-backed company with some large clients such as Buzzfeed, Imgur, and GitHub. Their network is fairly diversified with a strong presence in US and Australia/New Zealand.
The main differentiator of Fastly from other CDNs is that they support Varnish. Therefore customers can bring their own Varnish configurations and upload them directly to the platform. This is useful for some, although if you aren’t a VArnish user this may not make a difference to you.
As for their feature set, Fastly does support many new features offered by other CDNs although they don’t offer push zones nor do they offer Let’s Encrypt integration.
Those who are price-sensitive likely won’t find Fastly’s pricing to be overly enticing. The minimum monthly payment amount is $50 and users are charged on a per GB and per 10,000 HTTP request basis.
CloudFront – Convenient for AWS users
CloudFront is part of Amazon Web Services making it a convenient solution for those who are already using AWS. CloudFront’s network is comprised of 41 POPs however the features offered aren’t as robust as some of the other CDN providers. Moreover, a few CloudFront features come at an extra cost.
Similar to Fastly, CloudFront’s pricing is based on both a per GB and per HTTP request basis. Therefore, CloudFront’s CDN pricing can tend to get expensive for large users.
Nonetheless, CloudFront is built on reliable infrastructure and has been around for a while. If you’re already using one of the AWS services, and want to keep everything within a single dashboard, CloudFront is the answer.
MaxCDN (Now StackPath) – Cheap monthly plans
MaxCDN, which is now StackPath, is part of a 19 POP content delivery network with a strong presence in both the US and EU. As far as monthly plans go, they offer fairly inexpensive plans that start at $20/month for 200GB of bandwidth.
StackPath does offer a number of features although aren’t focussed on offering cutting-edge features such as Brotli or a Let’s Encrypt integration that can help further benefit a website’s security/performance. Since their network is also among the smallest of all top CDN providers you should double check where your visitors are coming from and if MaxCDN/StackPath has a presence in that area.
Overall, if you run a small to medium site and are focussed on paying a small monthly fee, MaxCDN could be worth a try.
Choosing the right CDN provider can take some time. You’ll not only need to research information pertaining to the prospective CDN providers but you’ll also need to do a bit of research about your site (e.g. where your users are coming from) and crunch some numbers to determine what your budget is.
At the end of the day, aim to choose a CDN provider that you can afford, who provides a solid and reliable service, who offers useful features to help improve the performance and security of your site, and who offers dedicated support and a healthy amount of information readily available in their knowledgebase.