MaxCDN vs CloudFlare vs Amazon CloudFront vs Akamai Edge vs Fastly

This post compares the performance and the features offered by the leaders in the CDN market for WordPress (but not limited to). Read on to find out which of the main players is most likely to work for your WordPress site: MaxCDN vs CloudFlare vs Amazon CloudFront vs Akamai Edge vs Fastly.

The CDN (Content Delivery Network) market is a fairly busy one.

There’s a ton of different services available, and for a newbie, picking the best one is a serious challenge.

After all, they all promise incredible performance, lightning speed loading times and etc. So what to do, how to live in a world like that?

Okay, things aren’t actually that brutal, and there’s a methodology when selecting the best CDN for your WordPress site. We’re going to talk all about it here.

Here’s our comparison of the top CDN services for WordPress:

MaxCDN-vs-CloudFlare-vs-Amazon-CloudFront-vs-Akamai-Edge-vs-Fastly
 

The battle of CDN services: MaxCDN vs CloudFlare vs Amazon CloudFront vs Akamai Edge vs Fastly

Let’s start by me playing Captain Obvious here, and say something that we all know … your WordPress site speed matters.

It matters for a lot of reasons. First off, people are not very keen on waiting for a website to load. In fact, 2 seconds is all you get. Again … that’s just 2 seconds! And I’m not just pulling this number from you-know-where. There are studies confirming that if your site takes more than 2 seconds to load, 47 percent of people can’t be bothered to wait [1]. They will leave and never come back.

Then there’s Google. We’ve been led to believe that Google pays attention to how fast your site loads, and based on the results, give you a bump in search engine rankings or penalize you slightly. (Here’s some data on that).

But enough with the theory…

So one of the best ways to make your WordPress site faster is to sign your site up for a CDN network.

In plain English, CDNs work by reducing the distance between your website and your target audience. It works something like that:

 

cdn

  • The example on the left presents the connection without the CDN – the user has to connect all the way from Spain to the US.
  • The example on the right has a CDN enabled – the connection distance for the user has shortened because now they only need to connect to the nearest CDN server, which happens to be somewhere in the UK in this case.
 
So long story short, CDNs are awesome. They make the connection faster, and thus improve the user experience overall. But there’s the question, should you go with MaxCDN, CloudFlare, Amazon CloudFront, Akamai Edge, or Fastly?

Round 1: Server locations

Let’s start the MaxCDN vs CloudFlare vs Amazon CloudFront vs Akamai Edge vs Fastly comparison with probably the most important parameter of any CDN – server locations and the size of the topography overall.

Quite frankly, you’re always going to have the best results if you sign up to a network that has the best coverage in the geographical area where your audience is.

For instance, what’s the point of signing up to a service with the most server locations in the US if you run an Australian-based WooCommerce store?

Therefore, here are the server locations of each network we’re comparing, according to their own information  (interactive map; feel free to switch between different CDNs from the sidebar of the map): 

 

 
(Note: You’ll notice that there’s no Akamai Edge servers on the map. That’s because Akamai has the biggest CDN infrastructure of them all with more than 216,000 servers in over 120 countries. In a word, it’s everywhere.)

Round 2: Price vs features and their limitations

Generally speaking, the price tag you’ll have to pay for a good CDN service depends on how much of your website data you want to hook up to the CDN + the bandwidth this will require on a monthly basis.

Here’s what you get with each network:

 
MaxCDNCloudFlareAmazon CloudFrontAkamai EdgeFastly
250 GB$21$0, $20, $200 *$24$30
500 GB$39$48$60
1 TB$79$96$120
5 TB$299$480$600
10 TB$499$888~$3,500 **$1,200
* CloudFlare doesn’t bill based on bandwidth; the 3 main plans available (including the free one) all have different parameters based on different traits other than bandwidth.
** Akamai doesn’t showcase their pricing publicly; you need to contact the company to get a quote; that being said, they’re more on the expensive side, with price tags going even as high as $3,500 for 10 TB.
 
Then, there are other standard features that you should expect from your WordPress-friendly CDN:
 
MaxCDNCloudFlareAmazon CloudFrontAkamai EdgeFastly
Origin Pull
Push
Cache Purge
Gzip
Custom CNAMEs
API
SSL
 
Finally, each CDN also offers a range of additional perks, which you can find useful:
 
MaxCDN

  • Added security features. View and manage the people, bots, locations and types of access you grant to your assets and to your control panel.
  • 24/7 live chat and phone support.
  • Real-time site analytics. See how your network is performing.
  • CDN API. Integrate users, zones and other resources into your applications.
CloudFlare

  • Added security. Protects your website from all sorts of online threats. Including DDoS protection.
  • Site analytics. View your website traffic, but also the number of threats avoided, bot traffic, and more.
  • 24/7 email and phone support, but only on the most expensive plan.
Fastly

  • Media streaming.
  • Cloud security, TLS encryption, DDoS mitigation.
  • Real-time stats.
  • 24/7 email and phone support.
Amazon CloudFront

  • There’s AWS Free Usage Tier allowing you to use CloudFront for free up to 50 GB of data transfer and 2,000,000 HTTP and HTTPS requests / month for one year.
  • Works with the AWS Management Console.
  • Supports dynamic content, not just static media.
  • Cache statistics reports, popular objects report, monitoring and alarming, usage charts, and more.
  • Advanced security features and geo restriction.
  • 24/7 email and phone support at extra charge. By default, you just get access to a community forum.
Akamai Edge

  • Absolute leader in the CDN market (more on that in a minute).
  • Adaptive media delivery, download delivery (for software updates, other digital downloads).
  • Media acceleration products.
  • Dynamic site delivery.
  • Media services and media analytics.
  • Predictive content delivery.
  • Global traffic management.
  • Cloud-based DNS.
  • Advanced security features.
  • 24/7 email and phone support.

 

Round 3: Performance

Testing CDNs is somewhat troublesome. I mean, there are different types of CDNs, different conditions in the network, and depending on what you’re trying to fetch (the size of the files, the main server, location, etc.), the performance can vary greatly.

For starters, there are two main types of CDN work modes, “Push” and “Pull”:

  • Push is where you basically send all your files over to the CDN (actually, the software layer responsible for integrating your site with the CDN does that), and then they get served from there whenever a visitor asks for any of them.
  • Pull is where you just let the CDN do all the work in the background, and whenever a file is needed – when a visitor comes to your site – the CDN pulls that file from your main server and caches it for future requests.

Then, there are issues with measuring performance of one CDN against another in a real-world environment where there’s just sooo many factors to consider.

You know how when you read a brochure for a new car, and it says that it does X miles to the gallon, but when you actually buy it you’ll never get anywhere close to that number. It’s somewhat the same with CDNs.

So when all put together, just picking some example sites that use a given CDN and measuring their performance via tools like this wouldn’t be very objective.

That being said, there are some standard performance measures that some CDN experts refer to in their comparison wars. One of them is the “initcwnd” parameter (initial congestion window – the number of packets a server sends on a new connection after the first GET request), which has a significant impact on the performance of TCP connections.

Setting all the technical details aside, it’s believed that – and I’m simplifying – the bigger the better. Here are some reported numbers for our lineup – MaxCDN vs CloudFlare vs Amazon CloudFront vs Akamai Edge vs Fastly: [2]

 
  • MaxCDN: 32 packets
  • CloudFlare: 10 packets
  • Amazon CloudFront: 10 packets
  • Akamai Edge: 16 packets
  • Fastly: 10 packets
 
Does that mean that MaxCDN comes on top here overall? Well, not necessarily, but it surely gives us some insight into each CDN’s structure and configuration, which we can take into consideration when choosing a network for our site.

Round 4: Under the hood

Okay, so while all of the services we’re featuring here today are content delivery networks, their inner workings tend to differ a lot. So based on what your requirements are, you’ll find some more suitable than others.

 
MaxCDNCloudFlareAmazon CloudFrontAkamai EdgeFastly
Real-time CDN that lets you accelerate, control, and track your web assets with just a few clicks.Not an actual CDN (tech-wise), but more of a reverse proxy that takes over all of your traffic and then serves cached versions of your content whenever possible and from a nearby location.Advanced CDN by Amazon (with all of Amazon’s infrastructure behind it) suitable to help you deliver both static and dynamic content, including streaming. Pricing based on bandwidth.The most popular CDN on the market right now, used by the biggest websites. Apart from CDN, Akamai also offers a whole range of website performance tools, with every plan being custom-built on a per-client basis.Real-time CDN built with mobile in mind, or rather, built for mobile first. Supports media streaming and real-time stats and reports.

 

Round 5: WordPress integration

How easy it’s going to be to integrate a given CDN with your WordPress site is a key factor here. I’m sure you’d like to be able to do everything on your own, and not mess up your site along the way.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room:

None of the CDN services featured here are push-button-easy to integrate.

(The only CDN I know of that works like that is the simple one available as part of the Jetpack plugin – called Photon. All you need to do is just install Jetpack and enable the Photon module. From there, you’ll have all your images sent over to the WordPress.com content network. So why are we not talking about Jetpack in this post? Well, it has its limitations. We’ll cover that soon in another post. Stay tuned.)

Here’s how to integrate each of our CDNs with your WordPress site:

 
MaxCDNCloudFlareAmazon CloudFrontAkamai EdgeFastly
After setting up your pull zone, you can integrate MaxCDN through the W3 Total Cache plugin.Integrates independently of WordPress. You just need to sing up to CloudFlare and then assign new DNS servers to your domain name. CloudFlare picks up from there.Integrates through the W3 Total Cache plugin. However, you need to configure your Amazon AWS setup before you can enable the plugin.No info. There are two WordPress plugins through which you can integrate your site: the official plugin called Fastly, and the actual recommended plugin called Purgely.

 

Final round: Who uses what

In this last round, we’re going to look through some of the websites that use each of the CDNs featured in this comparison.

This information should give us a better understanding of the kind and caliber of websites that gravitate towards a given CDN. For example, if you’re just getting started with a small WordPress site, you wouldn’t want to sign up for a CDN only to find out later on that it’s basically used primarily by HuffPost-sized websites, right? That’s what this is about.

First off, let’s see how popular our CDNs are overall: [3]

 

MaxCDN-CloudFlare-CloudFront-Akamai-Fastly

 
And here’s a list of some example websites using each CDN network:
 
MaxCDNCloudFlareAmazon CloudFrontAkamai EdgeFastly
WPBeginner, Yoast.com, WPEngine, WPLift, InstantShift.com, 9gag, The Next Web, BuySellAds.FounderLY, StackOverflow, Montecito Bank, APNIC.net, CodeGuard, Embed.ly, plus thousands of entry-level sites that would be impossible to list here.Zendesk, NASA, IMDb, PBS, SEGA.Facebook, Adobe, Airbnb, American Idol, Autotrader.com, Autodesk, Best Buy, BuzzFeed, Elance, Fiat, IBM, MailChimp, NBA, Philips.Stripe, imgur, Etsy, Vox Media, Pinterest, Fast Company, Wistia, Disqus, GitHub, Kayak.
 
Even though I tried listing some of the more recognizable brands (at least in the WordPress community) there’s a pattern here. Amazon CloudFront and Fastly seem to be favored by mainstream companies and overall well-known brands with a huge online presence, while MaxCDN and CloudFlare cater to both the big boys and standard WordPress blogs (or just entry-level websites). Akamai Edge is an entirely different story on its own. With high-tier pricing this probably isn’t a solution for anyone who’s not already consuming multiple TB of bandwidth every month.

Conclusion: MaxCDN vs CloudFlare vs Amazon CloudFront vs Akamai Edge vs Fastly

If I had to pick one solution here to use on a new WordPress site, I would go with either MaxCDN or CloudFlare.

Both have very positive track records in the blogosphere and deliver really good features for the price:

  • For site owners that are just starting out, I’d recommend CloudFlare. Their free plan makes it a great alternative to just get started with the concept of CDNs and speed up your site with minimal effort. From there, you can either let CloudFlare grow with you – by switching to one of the paid plans – or move your business elsewhere.
  • For WordPress sites that already attract a nice chunk of traffic every day, I’d recommend MaxCDN. The configuration possibilities of the network are really good, and it’s quite affordable all the way up (as your bandwidth grows), which you can see in the first table in this comparison.

Alternatively, if the core of your audience is located in a single geographical location, I’d probably go for a CDN that has the most servers in that area, even if that means your country’s local CDN network, which might not be that popular world-wide.

Let’s keep in mind that delivering your website to your core audience is the most important thing here. You won’t get much use of a CDN that has the best global coverage if your visitors are from just a single country where that network might have no servers.

Finally, here’s a side-by-side comparison table, comprised of all the individual parameters that we talked about in this resource:

 
MaxCDNCloudFlareAmazon CloudFrontAkamai EdgeFastly
250 GB$21$0, $20, $200 *$24$30
500 GB$39$48$60
1 TB$79$96$120
5 TB$299$480$600
10 TB$499$888~$3,500 **$1,200
Origin Pull
Push
Cache Purge
Gzip
Custom CNAMEs
API
SSL
Under the hoodReal-time CDN that lets you accelerate, control, and track your web assets with just a few clicks.Not an actual CDN (tech-wise), but more of a reverse proxy that takes over all of your traffic and then serves cached versions of your content whenever possible and from a nearby location.Advanced CDN by Amazon (with all of Amazon’s infrastructure behind it) suitable to help you deliver both static and dynamic content, including streaming. Pricing based on bandwidth.The most popular CDN on the market right now, used by the biggest websites. Apart from CDN, Akamai also offers a whole range of website performance tools, with every plan being custom-built on a per-client basis.Real-time CDN built with mobile in mind, or rather, built for mobile first. Supports media streaming and real-time stats and reports.
WordPress integrationAfter setting up your pull zone, you can integrate MaxCDN through the W3 Total Cache plugin.Integrates independently of WordPress. You just need to sing up to CloudFlare and then assign new DNS servers to your domain name. CloudFlare picks up from there.Integrates through the W3 Total Cache plugin. However, you need to configure your Amazon AWS setup before you can enable the plugin.No info. There are two WordPress plugins through which you can integrate your site: the official plugin called Fastly, and the actual recommended plugin called Purgely.
Who uses whatWPBeginner, Yoast.com, WPEngine, WPLift, InstantShift.com, 9gag, The Next Web, BuySellAds.FounderLY, StackOverflow, Montecito Bank, APNIC.net, CodeGuard, Embed.ly, plus thousands of entry-level sites that would be impossible to list here.Zendesk, NASA, IMDb, PBS, SEGA.Facebook, Adobe, Airbnb, American Idol, Autotrader.com, Autodesk, Best Buy, BuzzFeed, Elance, Fiat, IBM, MailChimp, NBA, Philips.Stripe, imgur, Etsy, Vox Media, Pinterest, Fast Company, Wistia, Disqus, GitHub, Kayak.
 Get for a growing WordPress site 
 Get for a new WordPress site 
* CloudFlare doesn’t bill based on bandwidth; the 3 main plans available (including the free one) all have different parameters based on different traits other than bandwidth.
** Akamai doesn’t showcase their pricing publicly; you need to contact the company to get a quote; that being said, they’re more on the expensive side, with price tags going even as high as $3,500 for 10 TB.
Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%:

References:

* This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and then purchase the product, we’ll receive a small fee. No worries though, you’ll still pay the standard amount so there’s no cost on your part.

Karol K

Creates content, manages CodeinWP's team of writers and makes sure that every piece of content you see on this blog looks great! / Author of "WordPress Complete" / Professional yerba mate drinker / @carlosinho
  • Alan

    Karol: Excellent article… well-written… substantive… educational… will archive in my Evernote for reference. Thank you. ~ Alan

  • Great write up! Would have been nice to see KeyCDN mentioned though. KeyCDN was one of the 1st CDN providers to launch HTTP/2 support and Let’s Encrypt integration. Also cheaper than those mentioned with more POPs. But still an amazing write up! Love seeing these types of posts. Keep up the great work Karol.

    • Karol K.

      Thanks! It seems that KeyCDN is making an impact out there indeed. I’ll have it include in the next update of the post.

  • Definitely should have included KeyCDN. Would love to see it added and compared.

    • Karol K.

      I’ll have it include in the next update of the post. 🙂

  • I would love to see Sucuri there as well 🙂 Great post.

    • We use the combination of MaxCDN & Sucuri – I don’t thinks Sucuri is a good match on itself as a CDN compared to these CDNs, when it comes down to speed. The combination should make it ironclad…(that’s what I hope 😉

      • ow embarrassing – NOW I clicked on your name, and see that you are a founder of Sucuri…ouch

  • efalkenburg

    We had troubles with MaxCDN on a shared hosting plan. We couldn’t make it work.
    Personally, I also don’t like their on boarding tactics.

    • Karol K.

      Interesting, please share what you don’t like about their onboarding.

  • I’m pretty sure that KeyCDN should be included here.

  • I use CloudFlare for all my projects. The $5 plan is very good for most people and their Web Application Firewall protects against some attacks

  • Ariel Barreiro

    Why do you say cloudflare is not a cdn technically speaking, fastly is also a reverse proxy and I don’t know the others, but if any edge that caches content by pulling data when needed is technically a reverse proxy. Thanks!

  • makeonlineshop

    Hello, do you know what wordpress/woocommerce cache plugin works better with Cloudflare ? Thank you for your great post !

  • A downside of CloudFlare is that if you want to use your own SSL certificate it requires a $200+/month plan from CloudFlare.

  • Ayoola Moore

    One question though – Why is there no single CDN Edge Location in Africa? Despite the fact that Africa is the most secure location with historical record of lower disaster ?