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Amazon CloudFront vs. Cloudflare

The technology that surrounds content delivery networks (CDNs) is an integral component of today’s Internet backbone. 

A CDN consists of a network of distributed servers worldwide whose sole purpose is to speed up the delivery of web content. CDNs achieve this by caching web content close to the geographical location of end-users when accessing a website or mobile web application.

This article will explore CDN technology and the offerings of two major providers, Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront.

What is a CDN Service and Why Do You Need It?

CDN technology has been in use since the early days of browser-based Internet access. In its early days, this technology could only serve — or cache — static content, such as images, video, CSS, and JavaScript. 

In contrast, modern CDN technology serves dynamic content, which is non-cacheable and requires server-side or computational logic. Examples of dynamic web content include shopping carts, user comments on an article or blog, and dynamic numbers on websites like stock trading platforms, where prices need to be continually updated.

CDN technology is vital because:

  • Improves the end-user web browsing experience by loading content faster.
  • Assists large e-commerce websites and social media sites handle high volumes of traffic more efficiently during peak times.
  • Helps avoid traffic congestion that sometimes occurs on Internet routes, helping businesses keep their online presence alive during emergencies by selecting different paths to deliver content to end-users.
  • Aids fights against the most devastating cyberattack that can target websites: the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.
  • Allows small and medium websites to scale on demand. When there’s high-volume traffic, CDN providers can increase the bandwidth to prevent a website from response failure issues.
  • Offers modern SaaS CDN solutions that enable small companies to take advantage of CDN technology at a low cost.
  • Provides several CDN providers on the market. Gartner produced a list of top global CDN providers, including Amazon CloudFront and Cloudflare. Many organizations rely on these CDN providers to operate modern web applications at scale. 

While Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront both help achieve this goal, they differ widely in terms of features and functionality. Let’s explore and compare the features, capabilities, and benefits of both.

Cloudflare

Cloudflare, launched in 2007, plays the role of a reverse proxy. It provides security and performance services for websites to help reduce the loads of local servers by caching content on servers that are located in different geographic regions. Cloudflare’s primary offering is an all-in-one approach to app scaling.

Key Features of Cloudflare

Cloudflare comes with rich services that include its global distribution, a DNS service, and additional security and encryption offerings.

A Global CDN
Cloudflare comes with rich services that include its global distribution, a DNS service, and additional security and encryption offerings.

DNS Service
Cloudflare servers are scattered across the globe. They support caching both static and dynamic content close to users’ locations. The Cloudflare network can reach 95 percent of the world’s population within 50 milliseconds. It’s available in 250 cities across 100 countries. 

DDoS and Attack Protection
Cloudflare boasts robust DDoS protection. It blocks an average of 86 billion threats per day.

SSL/TLS Encryption
Cloudflare offers SSL encryption free of charge. So, all traffic passing through Cloudflare servers is encrypted to prevent data theft and tampering.

Rate Limiting
Cloudflare uses a rate-limiting feature, which offers advanced protection against common web attacks like DDoS, brute-force login attempts, API traffic surges, and any cyberattack targeting web APIs and applications.

Load Balancing
Cloudflare dynamically chooses the fastest servers and Internet routes to deliver content to end-users. This geographically based system enables them to avoid slow servers and congested Internet routes that degrade user browsing experience. 

API Protection
Cloudflare has an API Shield that keeps APIs secure with API discovery and layered protections.

Cloudflare’s all-in-one approach is excellent if you value ease of setup and want to use a wide range of services. However, it’s important to note that it may place you at a disadvantage if you need more control or flexibility over which tools and services you use for your applications.‍

Amazon CloudFront

In contrast with Cloudflare, Amazon CloudFront focuses primarily on providing a secure, global CDN to ensure that your web app or website’s static assets (such as images, JS/CSS files, HTML files, and PDF documents) are served as quickly as possible, integrated with security protections to keep your site running reliably.

If your aim is to use a CDN service that integrates closely with other AWS services, then Amazon CloudFront is an ideal option — especially if you’re already running apps and services on AWS.‍

Key Features of Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront offers an impressive number of features that include cooperation with major global telecom operations, individually tailored security compliance, and secure edge-computing functionality.

Global Edge Network
A‍Amazon CloudFront has partnership agreements with Tier 1, 2, and 3 telecom carriers globally. It has a global network of 600+ points of presence and 13 regional edge caches in 100+ cities across 50 countries.

Security 

Amazon CloudFront provides numerous security features. For example, it offers protection against network- and application-layer attacks by using AWS Shield DDoS protection (with optional AWS Shield Advanced protection), AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), intelligent threat protection through initiatives like MadPot, and Amazon Route 53. It also provides SSL/TLS encryption for HTTPS connections integrated with AWS Certificate Manager (ACM). All contents and API traffic can be delivered over secure HTTPS connections, with managed, auto-renewing SSL/TLS ACM certificates at no additional charge for most customers. AWS WAF extends security functionality to include features like rate limiting, bot control, and fraud control to provide comprehensive application security at scale.

Moreover, Amazon CloudFront provides different access controls for its clients, such as preventing users located in specific countries from accessing their websites/applications. Amazon provides these features in addition to its compliance with several regulatory bodies, including PCI DSS Level 1, HIPAA, and SOC 1, 2, and 3.

Availability 
Amazon CloudFront achieves availability via Amazon CloudFront Origin Shield and its redundancy protocol. CloudFront Origin Shield stores cached contents in different locations and content are fetched from the origin only when needed. 

Additionally, by enabling redundancy for origins, Amazon CloudFront fetches the requested contents from the backup origin if the primary origin isn’t available.

Edge Computing
Amazon CloudFront provides programmable and secure edge CDN computing functionality through CloudFront Functions and AWS Lambda@Edge.‍

Cost-Effectiveness
Amazon CloudFront is a cost-effective CDN service for a few reasons. First, it provides numerous payment options suitable for most clients. These include pay-as-you-go (which doesn’t require an upfront fee), the Amazon CloudFront security savings bundle, and custom pricing. Additionally, Amazon CloudFront doesn’t charge for data transfer between AWS cloud services and Amazon CloudFront for origin fetches.‍

Cloudflare Versus Amazon CloudFront

Both Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront provide great benefits to speed up content delivery. However, their CDNs function differently and each offers a unique array of services.

Although both services help load your website content quickly, a significant difference between the two services is that Cloudflare approaches configuration management at the domain level, while Amazon CloudFront uses distributions at the site level. Cloudflare also offers up to a 100% business SLA, whereas Amazon CloudFront provides a 99.9% SLA. While this does not necessarily correspond directly to the reliability of the service, it is something to factor into architectural decisions for mission-critical applications.

These services also differ in their technical components and processes:

  • Cloudflare uses anycast routing to provide fast, low latency connections between clients and sites, while Amazon CloudFront uses unicast routing that may offer more control over edge locations and data residency
  • Cloudflare operates its own global network in 300+ cities in over 120 countries, providing fast service to most of the world; Amazon CloudFront uses Amazon’s global network of 600+ Points of Presence and 13 regional edge caches in 100+ cities across 50 countries
  • Cloudflare manages web properties at the domain level with page rules allowing more granular control, but Amazon CloudFront uses distributions down to the individual site level, allowing further customization based on path or pattern-using behaviors
  • Cloudflare offers CDN as well as other services such as DNS, load balancing, edge compute, and several others, whereas Amazon CloudFront is part of the AWS ecosystem, offering direct integrations with other services like ACM, S3, WAF, CloudWatch, etc., in addition to managing it through the familiar AWS Management Console and APIs

Conclusion

Amazon CloudFront and Cloudflare are extremely helpful options. Ultimately, the best choice depends on your specific business needs. As you’ve seen, there are important differences between the two services. So, to select the CDN service that best suits your business model, you’ll want to accurately and thoroughly understand the benefits and capabilities of both options.

If you’re still feeling uncertain, both services offer free tiers. This means that you don’t have to spend a cent on either service to determine which option better handles your website’s traffic spikes, improves its speed and performance, or gives you peace of mind knowing your site has more robust security.

If you opt for Amazon CloudFront, you can also turn to Mission for a special private pricing agreement. Mission provides a team of dedicated Cloud Analysts who provide valuable cost recommendations and ongoing cost optimization. This case study demonstrates how Mission can help you maximize your CDN service with Amazon CloudFront. Explore the Mission website to learn how you can benefit from our expertise in various AWS cost savings methodologies, such as leveraging AWS spot instances, RIs, and autoscaling.

Author Spotlight:

Bryan Sakowski

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