How CloudFlare Speeds Up Your Website By As Much as 60 Percent While Simultaneously Protecting You From Hackers
Did you know that you can speed up your website load times by 60 percent, practically eliminate DDoS attacks, eliminate bandwidth usage limits, and eliminate spam on your blog? It seems incredible, but CloudFlare does exactly that. One of the issues on most webmasters' minds, at one point or another, is security. Making a site more secure builds trust between you and your visitors, reduces headaches for you, and allows you to focus on what you do best: content creation and running your business. Another issue webmasters face is limitations on bandwidth usage, spam attacks, and DDos attacks (if you're a semi-popular website). While it wasn't originally designed to act as a distribution channel and content delivery network, CloudFlare's serendipitous experiment has thus far given users far more than what they bargained for.
How Website Security Usually Works
Website security is often done "in-house" for most large websites. Corporate blogs and highly-paid CEOs might shuffle this decision off to some IT personnel who is really motivated to keep his job - and rightly so. For this reason, security has traditionally been comprised of custom code installation from third-party security providers, widely-used plugins (some free, some paid), and custom security solutions. While all of these technically do work, the overhead in maintaining the security system can be brutal. IT specialists have to constantly monitor your website and keep up with all of the latest security threats. On top of that, there's no real guarantee that the security measures can't be defeated the same day that an upgrade takes place.
Even if you hired a good security team, you still have to essentially hand the reigns over to someone else and hope that the site functions as it should. For smaller websites and part-time bloggers, hiring a full-time security team is simply out of the question. Even small to medium-sized businesses normally can't pay for a dedicated security team.
If you can't afford a dedicated security team, what options do you have? Well, you basically have to run security detail yourself. Unless you're a computer programmer, you'll spend a lot of time getting acquainted with the dashboard of every security plugin, 3rd party code, and update process for every security measure on your site.
Problems With Traditional Security and Speed "Tweaks"
Speed tweaks sometimes go hand-in-hand with security since optimized websites tend to be more secure and load faster. There's no shortage of speed tweaks for Wordpress either. The problem there is that they have the same issues that security tweaks have: they're time-intensive to perform and they often require a pretty thorough understanding of the underlying programming language.
Even if you manage to somehow find a "one-click" solution for you security and site loading times, you still have to contend with bandwidth usage and compatibility issues.
Compatibility is sometimes the elephant in the room with Wordpress blogs. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone knows about it. Some plugins just don't play nicely with other plugins - regardless of what the publisher claims. How many times have you installed a new plugin only to find out that your site doesn't load properly afterwords, or worse, your site crashes and everything is gone? You go through the tedious process of disabling plugins to find what's causing the conflict. Your afternoon is shot. Congratulations. Now you're a part-time web developer.
How CloudFlare Shakes Things Up
CloudFlare is a unique web-based service that acts as a defacto content delivery network. Even though CloudFlare wasn't originally designed to be a CDN, they have figured out a way to combine security with site optimization and then deliver this content to your visitors at lightning speed. The best part? All of the security and site optimization is handled by CloudFlare, and it's scalable so that you can start out as a part-time blogger or small business owner and move up to the company's enterprise-level suite of services when you're ready. It's sort of like having your own dedicated security and site-optimization team without the high cost of ownership.
CloudFlare built its network from the ground up, choosing every piece of hardware right down to the chip level. It then constructed proprietary software to manage everything. Because CloudFlare owns and controls its own network, it can reduce hops and lower latency. On average, the company claims that most requests are fewer than 10 hops, and requests take just 30ms. CloudFlare also operates out of 23 different data centers around the world. The CDN is able to cache all static files at its edge nodes so that when someone visits your site, the load times are super fast. There's basically no waiting time for your site visitors. Faster load times equal happier visitors.
The company claims that the way requests are handled results in load times that are roughly twice as fast as what you are getting now, regardless of where your visitors are located. You also save a whopping 60 percent on your bandwidth usage - good for a rapidly growing site. CloudFlare also doesn't charge for bandwidth, so you'll never have to worry about overage charges.
- Security - This is where CloudFlare tends to stand out from its competitors. Instead of relying on building a wall around your website, you leverage a community of websites and share data about actual and potential threats. It doesn't matter whether it's comment spam, SQL injection, denial of service attacks, or just a lot of bot crawling. CloudFlare can automatically detect new attacks on any website on its network (i.e. your site). Once it identifies an attack on your site, it then proceeds to block that attack on your site as well as every other site in the network. Sharing intelligence this way means that you probably won't get hit with even half of the malicious attacks out there on the web, and the longer you are on CloudFlare, the better your protection becomes. The software "learns" more about your site and the potential threats to it.
Security control is easy. Choose how secure you want your site to be from a simple drop-down menu. That's it. No further optimization needed. CloudFlare also provides you with threat reports and other details about attacks that have been stopped.
- The Apps - Want to integrate Google Webmaster Tools or Analytics into your site? How about monetizing your site with 3rd party ad networks? Want cool effects and 3rd party applications to enhance your site's functionality? CloudFlare gives you one-click activation of some of the most popular web-based apps on the Internet.
There are three basic levels of service. The first one is free, making it a favorite for small operations. The Pro version gives you faster site performance than the free version (naturally), more security protection, real-time stats about your site, and an in-depth analytics program that can tell you more about what's happening on your site than just about any other analytics program on the market. With Google restricting some of its data on its own analytics program, you might find CloudFlare's analytics a breath of fresh air. The Pro version is $20. Not bad. The business and enterprise-level services are $200 and $3,000 per month, respectively. The higher price tags come loaded with features, and the enterprise-level $3,000 per month service even offers a 2,500 percent service level agreement.
Should You Use CloudFlare?
Traffic spikes, DDoS attacks, spam attacks, and scaling your security measures are all things that can bring your site down in short order. For the most part, CloudFlare seems to have solved all of these problems. Here's the catch: if you upgrade to the paid versions, you don't get to dump your host. You'll still need your hosting provider to serve up your dynamic content, even though CloudFlare can compress that data too and shoot it off to wherever your visitors might be in record time. The additional cost of CloudFlare will increase your overhead slightly, and it's easy to go overboard with feature options. Bottom line: CloudFlare simplifies website security and optimization. If you want a mostly hands-off approach, this is probably the best option out there right now. It takes about five minutes to set everything up. If you don't like it, it takes about two minutes to undo.