It’s a question we hear often: “Should I be using Cloudflare’s CDN?”
Cloudflare provides clear benefits for some sites, but the answer for many others isn’t quite as straightforward as the question would imply. Let’s start at the beginning…
What is a CDN anyway?
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a “geographically distributed group of servers which work together to provide fast delivery of Internet content.”1
Why wouldn’t we recommend a CDN like Cloudflare by default when it promises to deliver your pages more quickly?
Well, for one, adding an additional service opens up your website to an additional point of failure that neither we nor you can control. The Cloudflare outage on July 2nd of this year is a good example. Many, many sites across the internet experienced outages that they wouldn’t have without the CDN in place. But more than that, it can be an unnecessary expense for your business.
If your site needs a CDN to best serve your readers, that’s one thing. But for many people, it’s simply unnecessary, and we don’t recommend using a CDN unless there’s a solid reason.
But won’t it improve my site performance?
It might, but it may or may not be enough of an improvement to even measure. Let’s demonstrate.
Stand up right where you’re at and sit right back down.
That probably took you 2.5 seconds, give or take a few milliseconds. That’s about the same amount of time it takes data to get from our Los Angeles data center to our Dusseldorf, Germany data center and back … sixteen times. That’s right: a single roundtrip journey encompassing nearly 6,000 nautical miles takes about 150 milliseconds on the internet! Los Angeles to our Toronto data center is less than 85 milliseconds. And Los Angeles to our Denver data center is less than 35 milliseconds.
While using a CDN might speed up your page speed, chances are that those gains will be in milliseconds and not seconds. You’ll see more immediate impact by focusing first on the site speed factors you directly control.
When is a CDN helpful?
That’s not to say a CDN isn’t ever useful. Because it acts as a cache and doesn’t pull content from your central server each time a new visitor arrives, it can save you money in bandwidth charges, especially if you have a lot of large images, PDFs, or similar.
Cloudflare can also make migrations easier when clients move to Agathon. Some hosts make it tricky to get access to a client’s existing hosting information (something that shouldn’t be true, but unfortunately is); in these situations, an existing Cloudflare account can smooth over an otherwise long migration period.
If I use a CDN, can I turn off caching on my site?
The caching that’s done by CDNs (and Cloudflare specifically) is a higher level caching than the server caching we talk about elsewhere. Server caching, like that done by WP Rocket, is far more effective for improving the performance of your site. However, if you decide that Cloudflare makes sense for you, the two services shouldn’t interfere with each other.
There are many factors that determine whether Cloudflare makes sense for your blog. But beware of jumping on the CDN bandwagon in search of improved site speed; for most people it won’t have a significant impact.
Do you use Cloudflare on your site?
Which factors did you consider when decided whether or not to use one?