*note this article was updated March 3, 2017
It’s been about a year since our last CloudFlare v Akamai comparison and with both companies still growing at an incredible pace it seemed overdue for an update. Again, let’s start out with a review of where each company is in 2017.
Akamai remains the market leader when it comes to sheer size and revenue both in CDN and security. They still control a large portion of the Fortune 100 and IR 100, although some newcomers are starting to chip away at that customer base. Their current market cap is over $11 billion with their 2015 revenue hitting $2.2 billion and a net profit margin around 13-14%. They now have over 6,000 employees globally and over 200,000 servers in 120 countries. They maintain heavy control over the top media and entertainment companies and the majority of the largest ecommerce companies in the world.
CloudFlare, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer but still in the billion dollar valuation club due to heavy investment and rapid sales growth. Within 3 years of releasing their product, the company was seeing growth of 450% annually and adding over 5,000 new clients a day. They have been profitable since 2014 and have margins of 75%+. Their exact revenue and valuation is unknown, as they are still a private company.
Their CEO, Mathew Prince, predicted they would go public in 2017. However, the security sector has since cooled down, and valuations of many cloud and security companies have taken a downturn. Fidelity recently marked down CloudFlare’s valuation by 30%. Following these developments, CloudFlare says they are delaying their IPO by a year or more. Still, as you will see in the next section, they are picking up new customers at a dizzying pace.
Akamai vs Cloudflare Round 1 – Market Share and Revenue
Akamai has long been the CDN market leader when it comes to revenue and they maintain that status in 2017. But their revenue has slowly started to move away from CDN and towards higher margin security products as CDN bandwidth continues to nosedive towards zero. CloudFlare, on the other hand, has always pitched themselves as a cloud security company with CDN being one of many services they offer. They are one of the only “CDNs” that does not charge for bandwidth at all.
The charts below will compare Akamai and CloudFlare when it comes to market share among the top 1 million and top 100 websites in the world. The first chart comes courtesy of Datanyze.com:
Note that the above table is based purely on the number of websites served on each platform and not revenue. 90%+ of Cloudflare’s “customers” are on a free plan. And as you can see, the number of sites using CloudFlare drops off quickly as you move down the Alexa rankings. Meanwhile, Akamai still owns the lion’s share of the world’s top websites. Below, you can see a more detailed breakout of the top 100 (both charts courtesy of PacketZoom.com).
Perhaps a little more relevant in 2017 is the CDN market share among the top 100 mobile apps. As you can see below, Akamai controls a much smaller portion of this sector while Cloudflare remains near 5%. Of particular note is AWS Cloudfront dominating the pack at 40%+, which is primarily due to the fact that most new tech startups are adopting a cloud-first strategy and AWS is king in that world. Akamai’s legacy network also makes it more difficult to quickly load and purge content at the edge, which is critical for dynamic mobile applications.
As we touched on before, Akamai and CloudFlare have so far serviced very different market segments. Akamai has for a long time been king of the Enterprise and that is still true today. They offer a white gloved managed service that caters to high revenue, high market cap companies and make their team an extension of the customer. A very significant chunk of their revenue comes from just a handful of massive enterprise clients, and more and more of that revenue is now coming from security products.
CloudFlare, on the other hand, so far has been just the opposite. They have made CDN and security accessible to anyone by making their pricing simple (and free for many) and making the setup process easy enough even for the most non-technical user. With CloudFlare, they put the control in the hands of the customer, which is how they have been able to onboard massive amounts of new customers of the past few years. Even today, a significant chunk of their customers are non paying, but as those customers grow they are hoping they will start converting to into paid accounts which will drive revenue through the roof. But it’s not all roses and sunshine.
In 2015, cyber security was considered one of the hottest sectors in tech pulling in over $3 billion in new funding. However, the sector has since cooled down, and the valuations of many cloud and security companies has taken a tumble. CloudFlare was among those companies. Fidelity marked down CloudFlare’s valuation by 30.55%. Following these developments, CloudFlare says it will likely be 2018 or later before they go public.
Akamai vs Cloudflare Round 2 – CDN Performance
This is one area where CloudFlare has room to improve. Although they have been expanding their network at a rapid pace and adding new performance enhancing features, their CDN still doesn’t have a reputation for being the fastest or the most reliable. This could be due to the fact that they have such a massive number of customers on their network (even compared to Akamai). That said, they are still investing heavily into network expansion. As of the time of this writing they now have over 100 POPs and 10 Tbps of network capacity, which is no small feat.
Akamai, on the other hand, has long been known for being the most reliable CDN on the planet. They consistently perform at or near the top in every region of the world and have scale and reach that dwarfs every other CDN including CloudFlare. This is why they have been able to maintain control over much of the Fortune and IR100 for so long.
Let’s take a look at some performance data comparing the two (all charts courtesy of Cedexis):
The above shows CDN response time in the United States among (most) major CDNs. As you can see, CloudFlare comes in near the bottom with Akamai closer to the top of the pack. Unlike most newer CDNs, Akamai uses DNS based lookups rather than Anycast which slows them down a bit. Otherwise you would likely see them closer to the top in this particular performance metric. Still, there is only a couple milliseconds difference between Akamai and CloudFlare.
Next, we have CDN throughput, also for the USA. Here the gap is a little larger between the two with CloudFlare at #16 and Akamai at #4. It should be noted that CloudFlare generally doesn’t serve media or large file downloads like Akamai does, so this metric may not be as critical for their customers.
Not everyone operates in the US alone, and so for reference, the above graph shows CDN response time in Hong Kong. Here the gap between the two is at it’s widest, with Akamai coming in first and CloudFlare coming in at #19. Again, you should note that the difference between the two is only 4 milliseconds, but it is a 25% increase with lower availability. But again, response time is just one of many performance metrics to pay attention to.
Akamai vs CloudFlare Round 3 – Security
Security is the domain where both of these companies really excel, albeit in different ways. Akamai has had the strongest and broadest edge security offering for quite some time, and most people would say they still do. As you may have seen in our previous post, they can check off just about every box in your list of security needs no matter who you are. They also have over 20Tbps of network capacity to handle any size DDoS attack, plus Prolexic’s network of scrubbing centers. Akamai KONA was one of the first cloud-based security products on the market and is still today one of the most robust. You would have a hard time finding a security offering that protects you from a wider range of threats.
The downside (for some) of Akamai’s offering is that the customer does not have much control over their security policies. Akamai is, for the most part, a managed service and most times requires support or professional services engagements to configure and maintain. For large enterprises with a big security budget this isn’t necessarily considered a disadvantage as many of them simply don’t want to manage it on their own or don’t have the security expertise to do so. For smaller businesses on a budget, you may find it frustrating to make changes to your security configurations and the costs can add up quickly.
In contrast, CloudFlare’s offering is very turnkey and user friendly, even for people who are not security experts. Their WAF is feature rich and protects against all the most common attack types like SQL injection, XSS, and OWASP vulnerabilities right out of the box. In addition to ModSecurity rules, customers have the ability to import their own rule sets and deployment takes as little as 30 seconds. In order to gain access to all of CloudFlare’s security features you will need to be on an Enterprise plan which can run $5,000/month or more. That said, they do offer a strong security product even at the free tier.
Many CloudFlare customers have reported that their service allows for too many false positives (blocking of legitimate traffic). They do have settings to relax your security policy to prevent this, but you then potentially open yourself up to legitimate threats. And the granularity of their security settings can’t hold a candle to Akamai.
Akamai vs CloudFlare Round 4 – Pricing
This is one area where Akamai and CloudFlare are nothing alike. CloudFlare has gained significant market share in the past few years primarily because they offer simple, transparent pricing that they post right on the website.
This makes it easy for any company to sign up quickly and get started on their own with sales or technical support interaction needed. CloudFlare does not price based on bandwidth like most other CDNs, and rather charges based on what features you need and/or how many sites you need to secure. CloudFlare’s basic plans are cheap, starting from Free and going up to $200/month per website. However, in order to get full access to all of CloudFlare’s features (and phone support) you need to sign up for an Enterprise plan, which starts at $5,000/month. Enterprise plans are custom, so your pricing may vary depending on your needs.
Akamai pricing is a little less transparent. Pricing can vary drastically from one company to another, even if they are using similar services. Costs generally depend on traffic volume, geography, services and features needed (ex: DSA, KONA, GTM, Ion, Prolexic, etc) and more. They also sometimes bill based on page views rather than bandwidth (avoid this if you can). Everything is completely custom and must be negotiated with a sales rep. For a company needing similar optimization and security features to a CloudFlare Enterprise plan, expect to pay 3-5x or more (although remember that Akamai is also significantly larger, faster, and more reliable).
So which CDN is best? As usual, that all depends on your needs. If you’re a small business on a budget, CloudFlare is one of the better values in the cloud security market and has a large and growing content delivery network to back it up. If you’re looking for something you can setup quickly and will work right out of the box without needing a team of security experts, you have your choice.
For businesses looking for maximum performance and reliability and have budget and appetite for a larger and more managed service, Akamai is still the best of the best.