CloudFlare CDN

Date August 26, 2011

I host my site at prgmr.com, but it is essentially a small VPS, probably underpowered for the traffic spikes the my blog gets on occasion. I've done a few things to try to improve that time (such as using wp-super-cache, and I've investigated using nginx as a front end proxy (or even a replacement) for my web-serving needs, but in the end, all of these solutions require that queries come to my machine.

The ultimate solution is to spread the load across several machines in geographically dispersed locales. The biggest problem with that is that is money; namely that I'm cheap and that solution definitely isn't.

I thought the situation was hopeless until I was reading this Reddit thread asking what people's favorite Content Delivery Systems (CDNs) were. Lucidify (who is a god among men. or women. Or whatever gender/species they are) mentioned Cloud Flare as a free CDN.

Free? It's like you can hear my ears perking up over the internet, isn't it?

So I checked it out. Sure enough, it's got three tiers, the bottom being free. And the features are great, even with the free plan. I figured, hey, the performance on my blog is bad enough right now that I can't possibly screw it up THAT much, right? So I signed up.

Because they're acting as a reverse proxy for your site, they need to essentially hijack your domain name resolution. They have an automated method of checking for existing DNS entries, to which you then add anything they didn't find (the only one I had to add was the special Google apps for domains CNAME).

While the scanning is going on, they play a little movie that explains what (and how) they do what they do. There was a little snippet that I got a kick out of:

In the past, if you wanted your website to be faster, safer, or smarter, you needed to add hardware, install software, or change your code. If you think about it, that's all so 1990s.

I use that phrase a lot, varying the year (or decade), depending on what I'm making fun of (Email is SO 1985. Just ask this guy).

Anyway, eventually you get to the point where you update your domain's DNS servers to the cloudflare servers, and that's pretty much it.

If you're running WordPress, there's also a wordpress plugin that fixes things that might be otherwise skewed by the reverse-proxy usage (such as IP addresses in comments).

Overall, I've been very impressed so far. I don't know a lot about the backend, but their system status page, they've got a dozen servers around the world. I don't know if everyone's pages are delivered by each of these sites or not, but even a subset would be likely to help my performance.

Initial gut response by me and everyone I've asked to check it out is that the site is running much, much faster. If so, I'm not the first success story. Develop Daily reported that not only is it running better, but their traffic has increased since installing it. Very cool.

If you've got a site that is underperforming, think about it and consider whether or not it's a good candidate for Cloud Flare, because I'm very happy with it so far.

10 Responses to “CloudFlare CDN”

  1. Jan Husdal said:

    CloudFlare is a great service and worked well on my site, but I decided to switch to another service called Incapsula, which works similar to how CloudFlare does. Actually, in terms of security, Incapsula's free plan has security options that CloudFlare only has in their paid plan, but CloudFlare does appear to have more performance options than Incapsula. That said, I could not see a significant difference in performance between either services when I tested Incapsula versus CloudFlare on my own site.

  2. Twirrim said:

    I've been using them for about a month. In part because I needed to sort out an alternative DNS provider as my previous supplier refuses to provide support for AAAA addresses (that's all so '90s)
    Very happy with what I've seen so far, but I don't get enough traffic on my blog to say whether or not it's had any real impact. I does seems like I'm getting less stupid XSS and similar attacks.

  3. Fabio Rapposelli said:

    Cloudflare is great, I switched to their free service in June and I'm loving it, if using wordpress as blog platform I can suggest you to scrap wp-super-cache and the CloudFlare plugin in favor of W3 Total Cache plugin that is the most comprehensive and powerful caching plugin for WordPress and supports CloudFlare natively.

    Keep up the good work!
    Fabio

  4. Damon Billian said:

    Hi,

    Many thanks for the CloudFlare review.

    Hi Jan,

    That said, I could not see a significant difference in performance between either services when I tested Incapsula versus CloudFlare on my own site.
    "Performance for any website will vary based on the makeup and design of the site."

    P.S. Astroturfing every CloudFlare mention on blog comments probably isn't a really good way of drawing attention to the service you personally prefer to use.

    Hi Fabio,
    Thanks!

    Hi Twirrim,
    CloudFlare has some pretty exciting stuff on the way re: IPv6.

  5. Jan Husdal said:

    @Damon

    Admittedly, maybe a bit of "viral marketing" on my part here.

    You're right though that different services will achieve different results with different websites. For my site and for my needs, CloudFlare was not the best, for others it may be the best. In the end, it comes down to a matter of choice.

    And btw, I see that as a CloudFlare representative, you're tracking down a lot of CloudFlare blog mentions, too.

  6. Damon Billian said:

    "And btw, I see that as a CloudFlare representative, you’re tracking down a lot of CloudFlare blog mentions, too."

    Yes, but I'm not tracking down a competitor and making comments against them whenever they are mentioned. I specifically address questions related to CloudFlare & that's pretty much it. It would take me a few seconds of my day to do the same thing with any competitor to our service & I don't take the time to do that.

    The honest answer is that it will make people question your relationship with the company you are promoting (I clearly define myself and my relationship to CloudFlare with both my name and title & link back to our site whenever I post).

  7. Damon Billian said:

    And I guess I should clarify the comment about title, which is obviously not a field. An oversight on my part.

  8. Jan Husdal said:

    @Damon

    I understand that from your point of view I was making comments against CloudFlare, while from my point of view, I wasn't badmouthing or slandering CloudFlare, or was ? I was merely pointing out some factual differences as to plans and features between it and Incapsula as another competing service, and the fact that in terms of performance I could not measure a difference based on my website configuration. CloudFlare is a great product, but it's not the only performance enhancer out there. There's also Google Page speed and Yottaa Optimizer to mention a few more, albeit they do not have security features like CloudFlare and Incapsula do.

    My comment was meant to initiate a discussion on the topic of the blog post, isn't that what comments are for? As a previous user (and previous fan of CloudFlare, if you study my blog carefully) I am just as entitled to comment as you are, without questioning each other's motives for doing so, and I am sorry for not sticking to that in my reply to your comment where you made some allegations.

    Since neither of us has anything to gain from personal attacks, perhaps we should let that issue rest and focus on the topic at hand, namely CloudFlare?

  9. John McGrath said:

    Matt,

    I did notice the page loads faster now also.

    I think you need to mark your calendar, as the first astroturfing spat on your blog.
    Thanks Jan and Damon for marking another historical moment for Matt's Blog!

    :-)

  10. Vishal Telangre said:

    I also started using CloudFlare and I see effect on page load performance. It's usage is efficient. I'm also happy with their support too.

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