In 2016 there are a mind boggling number of options out there when it comes to CDN providers. Not including resellers, there are over 40 different options on the market ranging from pure-play providers like Highwinds to specialized security CDNs like Incapsula to regional players like ChinaCache. So how do you choose the right provider(s) for your business? This article aims to cover the top contenders for your specific need based on their feature offering, geographic distribution, and other areas of strength to help you make the best decision.
Akamai has long since been the king of the enterprise and still controls a huge portion of the IR100 and Fortune 500 to date. This is primarily due to their long history of high performance, and more importantly, reliability. They also have the largest feature offering on the market when it comes to security, application acceleration, FEO, and more. However, there are a growing number of companies in this space are looking for alternatives due to the high costs and general inflexibility that can sometimes come with working a company as large as Akamai.
Companies in this space who may not want to work with Akamai would be well off looking at the following possible alternatives:
This is a relatively new company in the CDN world but has grown at an incredible pace, particularly in the Enterprise, due to their unrelenting focus on dynamic/application delivery and security. They also offer a performance gain guarantee to Akamai customers and will even buy out the remainder of your contract should you choose to make the switch. This strategy has been working well, earning them customers like Office Depot, The Washington Post, and Yellow Pages.
This is a security focused CDN that markets themselves nearly exclusively to the commerce and banking industries. They don’t pitch their product as a CDN but rather a cloud security solution that can be used in conjunction with an existing CDN provider. But make no mistake, their service offering sits on top of a sturdy and fast growing content delivery network that can deliver both security and performance improvements at a competitive cost.
CloudFlare is arguably the most successful CDN startup to enter the market since Akamai. Their growth rate is astounding, primarily due to the simplicity of their platform, transparent pricing, and unbeatable security offering. The downside is that they do not have cleanest track record when it comes to CDN performance and uptime, but this seems to be improving over time as they continue to raise large rounds of funding and expanding network capacity and reach.
The media streaming space is quite a bit different than the ecommerce/enterprise space in that the buying decision tends to lean more toward low cost and high throughput performance, rather than first byte response, dynamic acceleration, or security. Akamai had a strong foothold in this vertical for quite a while but has been losing ground to other media focused CDNs like Limelight in recent years.
Companies in the media streaming space who may not want to work with giants like Akamai or Limelight may want to consider the following:
Verizon Digital Media
VDMS (formerly EdgeCast Networks) has made aggressive moves into the media sector with their acquisitions of EdgeCast, upLynk, and most recently AOL and Yahoo. Their network capacity and footprint has expanded incredibly fast in recent years and costs have come down significantly, making them more competitive on commodity streaming deals. Their video lifecycle solution is also one of the more simple and innovative products in the industry, winning them clients like ABC, ESPN, Disney, and more.
Highwinds had a few rough years in the earlier 2010’s but later turned things around and has been gaining ground in both the gaming and media space since. Their network map isn’t as large as the companies listed above but they boast really strong throughput performance and their pricing is about as aggressive as it gets. If all you need is good throughput speeds for media streaming or software downloads at a great price, this is the CDN for you.
This is a brand new contender in the media delivery space but has a very interesting offering unlike anyone else in the CDN world. They essentially buy low cost servers intended only for delivering video chunks (which often don’t require the fastest performance) and sell it at a rate of $.01/GB with no commitment. However, the product is intended to be used as a secondary CDN alongside your existing provider. Their proprietary video player then makes intelligent decisions about which CDN serves the video chunks to optimize performance for the user and minimize delivery cost for the streaming provider.
The gaming market is an interesting one because of the diversity of games available online today. Some gaming companies need to push out massive patches and updates to millions of users on a regular basis, requiring large bandwidth consumption and high throughput needs. On the other hand, some social games serve their in-game files (like images) directly from the CDN and require huge amounts of transactions of small objects to be served daily. And lastly, online games are becoming one of the leading targets of cyber attacks, meaning they are increasingly in need of security features like DDoS protection and WAF. Akamai has long been the leader in the gaming space, at least among the major publishers, but some of the smaller players have been gaining ground in recent years by getting very aggressive with pricing for this high volume traffic.
Gaming companies looking for an alternative to Akamai may want to consider the following:
After Highwinds recent revamp one of their most successful new initiatives was their Game Delivery Network which is essentially just a CDN platform marketed toward the gaming market. They have had a very strong presence at all gaming related events in the past few years and have put a lot of marketing focus on this product. This was a good strategy for them since they do deliver some of the highest throughput performance in the industry, which is the key performance metric for most big publishers. Their pricing at high bandwidth volume is also extremely competitive, often going well under $.01/GB on higher volume deals.
CDNetworks has been around for a long time but is one of the lesser known CDNs in America. This is primarily because they are an Asian company (formerly Panda Networks) and put more focus on the Asia Pacific region. As it applies to gaming companies, CDNetworks is a good choice for those with a lot of players in SE Asia and/or China. Their performance in that region is on par with Akamai but with much lower delivery costs.
Most of the web is made up of media/publishing websites (many of them running WordPress) cranking out large volumes of blog content made up primarily of text, images, and other small files. These types of sites generally don’t have the same types of requirements as an ecommerce or video streaming site since the content is mostly static and they likely don’t need to push high volumes of bandwidth or require high end security features. MaxCDN has been a leader in this space for a while due to their transparent and affordable pricing, easy integration with WordPress, and strong first byte response performance (in N America and Europe in particular).
Companies who are looking for an alternative to MaxCDN may want to look into the following options:
Fastly is a newer next-gen CDN that is very developer focused. Their network map is still relatively small but performance is good in N America and Europe and they give customers a lot of control over their content with features like instant purge and sophisticated APIs. Their pricing is also competitive, although at higher volumes MaxCDN generally beats them in that department.
KeyCDN is a small, low-cost CDN meant primarily for bloggers on a budget. If Fastly or MaxCDN are out of your price range and you just want to give your site a little performance boost without all the bells and whistles, this is a good choice.
CloudFlare is a perfect option for bloggers on a budget since their plans start at $0/month and they easily integrate with WordPress (using a plugin like W3Cache). They also offer more security features than any of the other CDNs mentioned above for those that may be doing commerce or offering other paid services on their blog.
There are many companies out there who have large portions of traffic in one particular region of the world. For example, the bulk of ecommerce traffic in 2016 is still in N America and Europe while other markets like gaming can have heavy traffic in SE Asia, China, or Brazil. This is often where companies have the most trouble, since not all the major CDNs have great coverage in emerging markets at this point (especially South America, China, and Russia). Akamai still has the broadest global reach with over 2,000 POPs worldwide, but you’ll end up paying quite a bit for delivery into those developing regions.
Companies looking for a CDN provider serving a particular region may want to consider the following options:
They have long been the market leader in China (with ChinaNetCenter nipping at their heels) and have partnerships with many of the major American CDNs as well. For enterprises looking for the best delivery in China, this is likely going to be the highest performance option for you.
South America (particularly Brazil) will be a hyper growth market in the coming years, much like mainland China. And yet, there are still relatively few CDNs that have good coverage on this continent. Most have a few POPs in Brazil, but the issue with South America (like China) is that the transit is very disorganized and the countries generally do not peer with each other. This means the superPOP architecture that most CDNs in America are using today doesn’t work as well down there. If you want the best performance you really need to find a provider with a large quantity of POPs spread throughout the continent. While still relatively unknown, Azion Technologies currently has over 20 locations spread across Latin America (primarily Brazil) with a few in the United States and Europe.
Russia is another large and growing Internet market and one that is largely untouched by even the largest American CDN providers. Skypark CDN, on the other hand, has over 20 locations just in Russia and the CIS region with dozens more worldwide. While it is unclear if they own and operate their own servers, they appear to be growing fast and costs are competitive for that delivery region.
For businesses with a big focus on the European market, CDN77 is a Europe based content delivery network with great coverage all over the region and pricing that is tough to beat even for the low cost American players.
While most of the larger CDNs are expanding heavily in Asia in 2016 and beyond, CDNetworks is still the king of this region. They have a massive number of POPs throughout Asia, including mainland China, and performance is on par or faster than just about anyone else. They are also very cost competitive in what is generally a higher cost delivery region.