Small Business CDN Review
How to Choose a Small Business CDN
The top performers in our reviews are CacheFly, the Gold Award winner; MaxCDN, the Silver Award winner; and Highwinds Network Group, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a service to fit your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of the best small business CDN providers.
What is CDN?
A content delivery network (CDN) helps your website load faster for your visitors by caching your content on servers in different locations around the world. This allows visitors faster load times and a smooth browsing experience when either increased traffic or long distances would otherwise slow your website down.
When too many people are trying to access your website at the same time, the increased amount of traffic can overload the server and cause things to slow down. If your webpage doesn't load, your customers get frustrated and leave. A CDN mitigates the risk of too much traffic slowing everything down when you host your website on a single server.
Distance is another factor that can affect a visitor's experience with your website. For example, if your customer is in the U.S. and your origin server – the original server where your website's data is housed – is in China, it's going to take a long time for your customer to get to your website. CDN providers help the distance issue by setting up servers all over the world called edge servers that house copies of your website's data. When your customer tries to access your website, they will connect to the edge server closest to them rather than the distant origin server.
CDN services are typically set up on the basis of a monthly subscription. When you begin working with a CDN, the data for your website is copied onto all of the provider's edge servers. Each CDN has a dashboard where you can view status and reporting on the traffic to your website through the content delivery network. The dashboard is your first point of contact with your CDN, and provides you with reporting on the status of both your website and the CDN's servers.
Small Business CDN: How We Tested, What We Found
There are three areas that will make the most difference in which CDN you choose: performance, server presence and simplicity. We evaluated each of these categories in order to rank the services we reviewed. The companies we tested had no input on the way we tested, and we did not provide them any results of the testing before publication.
When testing performance, we focused on benchmarks like response times and error rates. We used an independent tester to measure performance metrics for each company. The independent tester we used pulls data from actual end users of CDN companies to provide real-time performance metrics that are available to the public.
In order to test server presence and simplicity, we called each company anonymously and asked the representatives questions about their products and setup process. Many CDN providers also list available features on their respective websites, along with maps showing the actual locations of their servers around the world.
Finally, we obtained test accounts with each company that allowed us access to each dashboard so we could evaluate how easy it was to keep up on reporting and traffic to your website through your CDN.
High Performance Means More Traffic
We tested CDN providers specifically for two performance metrics: response times and error rates. In order to do so, we used our independent tester to record each network's response times on multiple days and averaged the result. A good CDN provider will have response times of around 126 to 129 milliseconds. Extraordinary CDN providers have response times below 125 milliseconds. Quicker page loads lead directly to higher traffic and greater sales conversions because customers can quickly and easily access your content. Additionally, Google uses response times and load speeds as one of its many metrics for determining your website's ranking in search results. A higher ranking on search pages means more exposure for your website and business.
We also used our independent tester to test error-rate percentages. Error-rate percentages are based on how often a specific network fails to deliver the desired content to the user. We compared CDNs by looking at real user data on the tester's website over the course of multiple days and averaging the number of page-request errors for each CDN service we reviewed. You should expect error rates below 1 percent, but the best CDNs will provide error rates lower than 0.5 percent. The company with the second lowest error rate in our lineup was CDNetworks, which is especially impressive considering the number of servers it operates around the world.
Strong Server Presence Helps Your Website Keep Up
When you're selecting a CDN to work with, it's important to consider where the bulk of your traffic comes from so you can be sure the company offers a strong server presence where your customers are located. A CDN with servers at multiple sites around the world allows for greater flexibility when it comes to load times for your visitors. If there is only one point of presence in the United States and the bulk of your customers are located in the United States, you can potentially run into problems. Most companies show maps of their server locations on their websites. Look for providers with servers in or near the areas you know generate most of your traffic. Level 3 Communications has the largest U.S. presence of all the CDNs we reviewed, whereas CDNetworks has the largest presence in the world.
Simplicity Gives You Time to Run Your Business
When you're doing things by yourself or you're just starting out, it's important to find a CDN that allows you to do what you do best: run your business. When you don't have to worry about sticky pricing tiers or long setup processes, you can focus more time on providing great content on your website. The best providers don't require a contract and are transparent about their CDN pricing. You can also find providers that will instantly activate your CDN within minutes of sending them your consent. CDN77 and Amazon CloudFront do all three of these things in order to make setup as easy as possible.
The dashboard included with your CDN should also be simple and clear. The dashboard serves as a portal where you can access reports and view the status of your website. The best CDN services provide a dashboard that is easy to understand and makes it simple to access the reporting. Average CDN providers don't provide actual real-time reports, even though they are labeled as such. Rather, the traffic analytics and reports come in on average within a few hours. However, the best CDNs provide reports within a few seconds. For example, Highwinds Network Group has an exceptional reporting time of about 30 seconds.
Additional Considerations for Small Business CDN
Performance, server presence and simplicity are three of the most important considerations when it comes to choosing a small business CDN, but there are additional features to consider that some companies offer.
The internet never sleeps, and it's often true that someone is browsing your website at any given moment, day or night. Because of this, it's important that your website stay running 24/7. Some CDN providers, like Internap and EdgeCast Networks, promise that your website won't fail because of their CDNs. This means you won't have to worry about your website going down while you're sleeping because of a CDN failure.
Security is especially important for anything on the internet, and CDNs are no different. The best CDN companies offer a flexibility when it comes to security, providing things like secure sockets layer (SSL) certificates and proactive threat protection options. They also allow their clients to add custom SSL certificates and control token authentications, which let you decide if visitors to your website can access certain content or not. BitGravity provides all four of these security features with its content delivery network.
Small Business CDN: Our Verdict and Recommendations
While there are many considerations to take in when it comes to choosing a small business CDN, it's important to choose the service that will work best for your specific needs. Our top three providers offer the most comprehensive solutions in terms of performance and features. CacheFly provides a simple pricing structure with a wide variety of features, giving you the most flexibility to deliver a website with both dynamic and static content. MaxCDN makes the setup process simple and affordable for first-time CDN users. Highwinds Network Group has a solid infrastructure in place that allows for lower response times than almost any other service we reviewed.
While these top three companies excel at providing the best CDNs overall, other companies we reviewed also have unique features to offer. Level 3 Communications, Internap and EdgeCast Networks all guarantee that their CDNs will be up 100 percent of the time, so you can be sure you won't experience downtimes due to the CDN. Companies like BitGravity give you the most security options to protect your website from threats.