In the world of CDNs Akamai is the incumbent 500 pound gorilla, no question. They have a HUGE global presence, super solid technology and networks, and have the most experience with large enterprise clients.

However, now there other strong players in the CDN market. One of the most interesting is CloudFlare. They are a young company and have strong security and front end optimization (FEO) focuses, beyond just the normal CDN edge caching functionality. They started as a security company, and in fact recently absorbed the largest DDOS attack in history without a disruption in service. In order for their security service to not have a performance degradation associated with the overhead of proxying and filtering all traffic, they had to develop advanced performance improving functionality as part of their service. CDN-style asset caching is part of it, but their FEO services make a big difference.

CloudFlare is also VERY affordable! They manage this by the fact that when they built their business, global data centers, cloud computing providers, massive network infrastructure and bandwidth, were all ubiquitous and cheap, so they had relatively small capital outlay to build their service. Compare this to Akamai who had to invest massive amounts of capital into building data centers, servers, laying fiber, etc… The end result is that CloudFlare’s services are one to three orders of magnitude more affordable than Akamai. CloudFlare also includes their security and FEO services as part of their standard service, whereas Akamai’s security and FEO offerings are a substantial additional cost.

I recently used a moderate to heavy complexity Oracle Commerce eCommerce site to do some quick and dirty comparison testing. The results are interesting, but perhaps not unexpected. First off, this is not a comprehensive comparison, and doesn’t factor in Akamai’s FEO service, or their network locations vs CloudFlares, etc.. So don’t read into this more than you should, and don’t remind me that it’s not 100% apples to apples:)

First I tested the home page, which was image heavy and had large navigation, etc..

Site YSlow Score Pagespeed Score Download Size Load Time Time to OnLoad Number of Requests
Origin 69 (D) 74 1.1 MB 3.99 seconds 3.75 seconds 51
Akamai 73 (D) 79 1.2 MB 3.19 seconds 2.61 seconds 47
CloudFlare 94 (A) 85 0.7 MB 2.39 seconds 1.91 seconds 34

Then for a category page I got these results:

Site YSlow Score Pagespeed Score Download Size Load Time Time to OnLoad Number of Requests
Origin 68 (D) 71 1.2 MB 4.00 seconds 2.87 seconds 75
Akamai 73 (C) 76 1.1 MB 3.61 seconds 2.73 seconds 71
CloudFlare 93 (A) 82 0.4 MB 2.85 seconds 1.92 seconds 45

As you can see the difference is very impressive! Dramatically improved YSlow and Pagespeed scores (which you would expect since CloudFlare provides the FEO features as part of the main service). But overall page load time was also much better, even with Akamai’s larger network footprint. This is due to the significantly lower number of requests and overall smaller size of assets. These two factors have huge impact on the end user’s site performance. So even if you don’t look at CloudFlare (and you should), you shouldn’t be using any CDN without FEO features!