Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) have made it simpler for many business owners to reach markets they cannot physically access. Since this internet is an expanding globe, it is getting increasingly difficult for origin hosts to reply to thousands of a website’s visitors all at once.
With that established, it stands to reason that businesses and website administrators should begin looking into content delivery network evaluations to locate the best CDN.
CDNs, like everything else in life, are not created equal, and having a concise CDN comparison chart may go a long way.
Hence, before we compare the two most popular CDNs (Fastly and Cloudflare) and how they may profit your business from your version of the best CDN.
We say “your” since the best CDN might vary based on company needs. First, let’s define what a CDN is.
A CDN’s entire purpose is to distribute online content to site visitors and internet users properly to improve performance and deliver quality experience.
In a nutshell, it is the primary purpose of CDNs. And, while it may appear easy, these cloud delivery systems perform complex activities to complete the job.
Among other things, this technology needs enormous amounts of data and consistent Points of Presence. These servers pass data back and forth until the requesting web content user receives the data.
Cloudflare is a very popular American CDN service that combines a reverse proxy with a content delivery network, as well as a slew of other security and optimization features.
The service is not a traditional CDN. There’s no need to select which material to store, and there’s no need to change your site’s code. Instead, you update your DNS nameservers to use Cloudflare.
The service kicks in automatically once the changes have disseminated over the internet (this might take up to 24 hours but is usually considerably less).
Some of the attributes are shared by other CDNs. For example, Cloudflare identifies visitors’ locations and routes them to the nearest data center. If feasible, this delivers your material from its cache, which improves response times.
Located in San Francisco, Fastly is a flexible cloud firm with a long list of notable clients, including GitHub, Ticketmaster, Spotify, Deliveroo, New York Times, Kickstarter, etc.
Fastly’s CDN uses a reverse proxy model that is simpler than other Cloudflare-like models. Fastly sends all website traffic through its servers rather than providing you with a ‘cdn.mydomain.com’ address where you may store certain files.
To make this work, you must update your site’s CNAME record with the domain registrar, but after that, it “simply works,” with no website coding modifications necessary.
Once set up, the system functions similarly to any other CDN. When someone visits your website, Fastly determines their location and retrieves information from the closest point of presence (PoP).
The company has strong PoPs worldwide – 20 in North America, 6 in South America, 13 in Europe, 8 in Asia, 6 in New Zealand and Australia, and 2 in Africa – so most online users should receive a quick response.
Cloudflare’s benefits are more subtle than you’d expect. Cloudflare can filter your online traffic in a variety of ways since it knows everything about it.
For example, threats are blocked depending on reputation, HTTP headers, blacklists, and other factors. In addition, some effective image improvements are among the high-quality extras.
For example, Cloudflare’s ‘Polish’ technology reduces picture file sizes by an average of 35%, while ‘Mirage’ employs various approaches to improve how images are shown on mobile devices. These characteristics alone might make a significant difference in the speed of some websites.
Video caching functionality is extremely customizable in Fastly. It supports most HTTP-based media streaming protocols, such as Apple’s HLS, Adobe’s HDS, and MPEG-DASH.
The service also works hard to keep your content secure, with compatibility for encryption, DRM, and security tokens that limit access to your video (your web app provides these, and they expire after a configurable period.)
A completely adjustable web application firewall, effective DDoS mitigation, and intelligent bot identification and blocking are among the enterprise-level security features. Everywhere you turn, there’s fresh and cutting-edge technology.
Tired of CDNs expecting you to be wowed by their HTTP/2 support? Fastly offers the lightning-fast UDP-based HTTP/3 protocol. That won’t assist you much right now (the major browsers support HTTP/3, but then it’s disabled by default), but it’s nice to know the possibility exists.
This goes far beyond the basic file and quality improvements provided by Cloudflare and others. It can resize photos, crop or trim them, alter their orientation, convert their format, and do other things.
Combine this with Fastly’s compatibility for Varnish Configuration Language, and you can effectively handle all kinds of image processing decisions at the edge.
Creating a Cloudflare account is similar to creating an account with any other web service. First, enter your email address, create a password, and you’re done. Then, by inputting its domain, you begin the process of creating your first website.
Cloudflare collects every DNS record we knew existed, as well as a few we didn’t, then offers the opportunity to add more and allows the user to choose which settings it will maintain and which they will handle themselves. (If you don’t know what you’re doing, accept the default settings – they may be adjusted later if required.)
After that, the only thing left to do is point your domain name servers to Cloudflare. It’s as basic as DNS tinkering gets, and the Cloudflare website even informs you which records to modify.
While this appears to be a simple task, there is a catch. Cloudflare only proxies HTTP traffic.
Thus merely changing your nameservers may cause other services to fail. One of the potential risks is highlighted by the company: ‘Cloudflare’s default setup only permits proxying of HTTP traffic and will disrupt mail traffic.’ Oops.
Take a look at that post to learn more about any possible email concerns, and keep in mind that activating Cloudflare may have some unintended consequences. Choose a calm period to explore, such as the weekend, when any difficulties are unlikely to have an impact.
Schedule a time for setup, then go to your domain registrar and make the necessary adjustments in its control panel. Cloudflare should be enabled pretty quickly.
It simply takes a few seconds to sign up for Fastly. Enter your name, company, phone number, email address, and password, and that’s all. Next, a Create Service button allows you to configure your first website.
This procedure begins with entering your name, domain name, and IP address, followed by adding a host as a backend. Fastly starts up fairly instantly, then provides you with a test URL to use to confirm the service is operational.
This not only saves you the two hours it could take for DNS records to propagate; it also has no impact on production traffic.
If you want to play around, you can use your $50 credit without affecting your site’s usual operations. And there’s a lot more testing to be done.
Take, for example, GZip compression. The majority of CDNs provide this as a simple switch. Fastly performs the same thing, but it also lets you specify the file extensions and content categories you want to compress.
In addition, it has a built-in normalizing technique to ensure that GZip does not damage some legacy browsers, and the leveling algorithm may be customized if desired.
When it comes to modifying HTTP headers to tailor how your content is provided, the process is very similar.
Fastly provides fine-tuned low-level control over what you edit and how, even down to RegEx support for conduct find-and-replace operations on the header text, as opposed to prepackaged options.
This method provides you with a great deal of leeway. For example, assume your origin server occasionally returns 404 errors, but only momentarily.
You presumably won’t want those stored for the entire 24 hours, do you? So you may solve the problem with Fastly by establishing a cache object that adjusts the TTL (time to live) value to five minutes if the system receives a 404 response code.
Getting started on Cloudflare is pretty much easy, same as Fastly. All that is required is to input your details, create a unique password, and you’re all set, so it’s a tie.
Trying to figure out which CDN is the fastest for you is a difficult task. Every service has its network, which may perform well in one country but fall short in another.
A CDN must also be compatible with your website’s visitors. Having a great performance in Europe is useless if the majority of your visitors are from North America. Cloudflare ranks 11th (out of 20) for global requests, with an average response time of 36ms.
That’s not fantastic, but it’s also not terrible, with the firm topping some major names and trailing many others by milliseconds. The global averages, however, are a little deceptive because Cloudflare’s performance varies greatly between areas.
In North America, for example, the firm was ranked 14th, and in Europe, it was ranked 17th. However, it came in second in Asia and fourth in Africa, probably because Cloudflare has such a large network that it can reach regions that others cannot.
Keep in mind that this isn’t the entire story, and websites will experience varying levels of speed improvement based on their configuration, which Cloudflare features they utilize, and how they use them.
Overall, there’s a lot of potential for improving performance here, more than enough to justify creating an account for the free plan and giving it a shot.
Because there are so many variables to consider, determining which CDN is the best for you is quite challenging. The locations of your visitors and the origin server, the apps you’re utilizing, the types and sizes of the cached files, and how frequently they need to be updated.
When you consider any other services that the CDN may provide, such as image optimization, the only way to know for sure is to sample the service for yourself.
A service like CDNPerf, which evaluates CDN response time based on real user monitoring data from billions of tests, may provide some hints.
Because it is simply the reaction time and tells you nothing about what occurs after that, you should only use it as a basic indicator.
However, it is the best data we have, and if your CDN requirements are basic, it will give you an indication of what to expect. As of the time of this writing, Fastly is ranked sixth in the United States for response times, out of a field of 20.
The more experienced users leverage Fastly’s most advanced capabilities, such as image processing, HTTP/3, smart VCL, and shifting critical logic to the edge. They may experience further speed gains from each of these, resulting in one very fast site.
Judging from this bout, whether Cloudflare or Fastly, they both enjoy varying performance levels, although Cloudflare won this round due to their global rating, which far surpasses Fastly’s rank.
The Cloudflare web portal starts with an overview page that displays your current site status, which should be changed to ‘Great news! Once your updated DNS settings have been reflected, Cloudflare would now begin protecting your site.’
Firewall, DNS, Page Rules, Traffic, Analytics, Speed, Caching, Network, and Customization are among the 15 other function categories represented by tiny icons in the panel. Even specialists will be left wondering what’s in some of these, but clicking on each one uncovers more.
The Analytics section contains many comprehensive statistics on bandwidth use, requests, DNS traffic, cache effectiveness, unique visitors, threats prevented, and other topics. Even the free plan includes most of the things. However, there are some severe time constraints.
Cloudflare performs some speed tests on your site when you click the Speed button, indicating any gains you noticed after enabling the CDN and configuring its basic optimization settings.
Fastly is a well-designed piece of software with a host of useful features. The technology is intended to improve online and mobile delivery by providing dependable content and image optimization capability.
This feature makes it simple to transform and serve all images from the edge, conserving infrastructure, decreasing origin traffic, and lowering expenses.
In addition, an instant purge function allows you to cache and invalidate event-driven material nearly soon after it is changed on the origin.
Furthermore, Fastly offers an excellent video and stream feature designed with useful functions for the quick delivery of broadcast-quality video experiences.
The platform caches (with a 97 percent hit rate) and quickly distributes both long-tail and on-demand videos, as well as frequently requested films. This not only decreases the burden on your origin but also speeds up the global TTFF (time to first frame).
Furthermore, the program has excellent on-the-fly packaging (OTFP), enabling fast playback for improved viewer experience across several platforms and devices.
While Cloudflare focuses on a website’s health and performance, Fastly is geared towards image optimization. Thus they are both effective in their respective functions.
Cloudflare is essentially a reverse proxy CDN. Users must modify their DNS to allow Cloudflare CDN to operate as an intermediary between the visitor and the web server hosting that page.
It integrates the security and optimization features of JS, HTML, and CSS in this manner, which distinguishes it from other CDN services. Furthermore, it provides SSL certificates in its free edition, allowing consumers to obtain basic security features for free.
Fastly is a real-time CDN designed with mobile compatibility in mind, allowing for real-time analytics, reporting, and streaming.
In addition, fastly provides basic defense against DDoS threats and other security concerns. Fastly’s security, on the other hand, is nothing out of the ordinary.
Based on this Cloudflare vs Fastly, the later comes on top with its real-time protection. However, when compared with Cloudflare’s reverse proxy CDN, it doesn’t pack lots of punch.
Cloudflare offers 24/7 customer assistance via email and phone. However, if you do not pay for the services, you will not receive any customer assistance.
In other words, Cloudflare exclusively provides customer assistance to premium plan subscribers.
Cloudflare, on the other hand, has the most active community forum in the CDN business. As a result, even if you use the free version, you will obtain the assistance you require.
If you have a problem, you will most likely use Fastly’s community forum. Although they provide 24-hour customer service, they can only be reached via email.
More so, due to the lengthy email procedure, most clients choose to use the community forum.
While Cloudflare’s round-the-clock support is amazing, it’s unfortunate that if you’re not a paid user, you cannot access it. However, we’d go for Fastly’s, a community forum. At least you can be sure of getting a response anytime you run into an issue.
Cloudflare’s product line begins with a free plan. This restricts certain capabilities (basic DDoS protection only, with just three-page rules included) and eliminates others (no image optimizations).
Still, there are no ridiculous limitations to compel you to upgrade. You have the same access to sophisticated features, such as the REST API, as commercial accounts. The plan is also free in perpetuity, with no bandwidth restrictions.
Cloudflare Pro is a $20-per-month service geared for professionals. This adds Cloudflare’s Web Application Firewall to the free plan and image optimization tools and the ability to create up to 20-page rules.
The average response time for email support is two hours. In addition, there are more user agent and firewall rules, as well as real-time DDoS attack notifications.
However, there’s enough capability here to warrant the price, particularly for high-traffic sites that would incur additional bandwidth charges with other CDNs.
Finally, Cloudflare Business adds enhanced DDoS protection, bespoke SSL certificate upload, improved delivery of dynamic content, PCI compliance, priority support, and up to 50-page rules to the list of premium services. All of this sounds fine to us, though we’re not sold on the $200 monthly fee.
Cloudflare Free, unsurprisingly, is the outstanding offering here. It’s easy enough for beginners to operate yet powerful enough for heavy-duty applications.
However, the absence of page and firewall rules means it isn’t nearly as customizable as commercial alternatives, and the lack of support may be a concern if you’re using it for anything business-critical.
Fastly is a pay-as-you-go service with a minimum monthly charge of $50 and a pricing structure similar to Amazon CloudFront.
Bandwidth is charged at different prices depending on where you are. For the first 10TB, North America and Europe pay $0.12 per gigabyte, Australia and New Zealand pay $0.19, and Brazil and South Africa pay $0.28.
When traffic exceeds 10TB, prices drop by about $0.04 per gigabyte.
In addition, you are charged for the total amount of requests (the number of files downloaded). Prices vary by area and range from $0.0075 to $0.016 per 10,000 requests (this is a fixed charge for both HTTP and HTTPS requests).
Fastly offers a simple Pricing Estimator to help you estimate your monthly payment. To see the results, enter your expected bandwidth and number of file requests.
If pricing is your primary priority, Fastly will not work for you. Prices at KeyCDN begin at $0.04 per GB, which is one-third of what you’ll pay at Fastly, with no fee for requests and a minimum monthly expenditure of $4.
On the other hand, Fastly is fairly priced for its extensive feature set and is similar to Cloudflare and Azure.
If you’re still not sure, a free $50 credit simply for signing up (400GB or less, dependent on what you’re doing) offers you an opportunity to evaluate how the service works with your website.
Cloudflare offers users a free plan even without limiting some essential features. Fastly, on the other hand, is a pay-as-you-use service. More so, they also offer a subscription estimator so you can select your plan.
- Small and large file delivery
- HTTP and HTTPS
- API availability
- Cloudflare doesn’t offer live videos
- Fastly is on a pay as you go basis
- Fastly is a lot faster than Cloudflare
- Offers a free plan
- Cloudflare offers smart website optimization
- Cloudflare comes with loads of features
- The company has great performance in Asia and Africa
- Cloudflare’s business plan can be costly.
- The speeds are not effective in North America or Europe
- Fastly offer several powerful features
- The software is configurable
- You get the first $50 of traffic for free
- Fastly automatically purges its cache almost instantly
- Fastly can sometimes be difficult to set up
- Fastly offers only mid-range speed results
Fastly may not appear to be much at first glance, yet its dynamic features allow it to do a great deal which gives it an edge over Cloudflare. On the other hand, Cloudflare is already the industry’s leading CDN, with the largest client base.
This Cloudflare vs Fastly article compares these two CDN services in terms of advantages, limits, performance, security, price, and customer support. Hopefully, it will assist you in making your decision.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing.
Tom has been a full-time internet marketer for two decades now, earning millions of dollars while living life on his own terms. Along the way, he’s also coached thousands of other people to success.