I first heard about the concept of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) when researching page speed a few years ago. I didn’t get very far since it seemed at the time to be a fairly expensive addition to my websites. I decided to revisit the subject now that mobile is poised to overtake desktop use, making page speed more important than ever.
Free Content Delivery Network
I chose CloudFlare primarily because it’s free and HostGator thought well enough of them to offer their services in their CPanel. I also read a hilarious review from Jeff Dickey, a web developer whose sense of humor fits me perfectly. I will be testing at least one other free CDN in the coming weeks and will write a separate post for that. I will update this post as my observations on page speed and bandwidth proceed.
A Content Delivery Network works by making a cached version of your website and storing it on servers throughout the country or world. This, in theory should cut down on your hosting server load and bandwidth and should also serve the pages faster since the database won’t need to be queried to render a page. The biggest drawback I’m worried about is when I’m editing a page, cache might get in the way of seeing live changes. There is a workaround for this built into CloudFlare. They set up on their end a subdomain that gives you direct, uncached version of your site. This presumably will take care of that worry, though I will be testing it for myself.
So far, I’ve set up two websites on CloudFlare, but have seen only slight improvements in page speed on Google Developers PageSpeed Insights Tool. Ultimately, page speed is not the only thing I’m after. As a website hosting reseller, I would like to be able to set up some of the websites I host on a Content Delivery Network to help minimize their bandwidth (and mine).
Benefits and Advantages for Hosting
One other big reason for using a Content Delivery Network is to help avoid down time when hosting servers experience outages. HostGator and Bluehost (who are owned by the same company) have had a couple of major outages in the last year. They have never said the outages were the result of hacking, but being the biggest hosting operation in the country paints a big target on their back, so I would imagine that it’s either already happened or only a matter of time. These outages usually only last a few hours, The Content Delivery Networks might fill in that gap so websites that use them won’t miss a beat.
CloudFlare doesn’t supprt https page with its free plan, but they do offer that if you have an ecommerce site that needs this kind of protection.