I run a popular site for which I would like to use a CDN network. So far I have found NetDNA since it is easier to setup with W3 Total Cache plugin.

There is Rackspace Couldfiles and Amazon. But there are also Akamai, Limelight, and many others.

Apart from price difference, is there any other specific difference between them? Is there anyone who has used the services above and can recommend the best one out there?


The two major CDNs I know of are Limelight and Akamai. They offer different options and a huge price difference. Also they tend to have a breaking point where if you're not using enough traffic it's a waste of money to use their service. It's better to go with a cloud format like the amazon web services or rackspace cloud hosting.

I've used Akamai many times, and they are by far my first pick, but they tend to be for bigger clients as most major companies use them.

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  • How exactly are those types of CDN different from cloud hosting? I've only ever used CDN for things like common JavaScript libraries (which means cached copies can be shared between many different sites, but it's only a marginal performance booster), so I'm not sure what the benefits of paid CDN services are. Do they offer better consistency than cloud platforms? – Lèse majesté Oct 22 '10 at 14:07
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    Cloud hosting is say a group of servers in 1 building at 1 location. A CDN is a group of servers spread out around the country/globe so it allows you quicker access to them. If you're in New york trying to hit a server in Texas it can be faster to be hitting a server locally in New York for the files. The CDN is also generally able to support much larger traffic volumes since it's speed is calculated based on location the traffic comes from. – XOPJ Oct 22 '10 at 14:18
  • Ah, so CDN is explicitly geographically distributed, whereas most cloud platforms aren't--though I assume something like Amazon EC3 or Google App Engine might be? Also, what is the pricing for something like Limelight/Akamai like, if you're allowed to discuss it? – Lèse majesté Oct 22 '10 at 14:25
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    It varies on your traffic. They work similar to phone carriers in terms of you buy a block of maybe 300GB of data a month and if you're under you're fine, if you go over you pay a set price per GB over. Amazon or Google App engine have some distributed servers as well, but they aren't specialized in the geographical market like Limelight and Akamai are. It really depends on the price you want to pay, how much data you're moving, and what gains benefits each network would provide you. Limelight and Akamai have account reps you can speak with to get pricing and info. – XOPJ Oct 22 '10 at 15:05
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    Just to add, Rackspace Cloudfiles is a proper CDN as they use Limelight's servers to distribute content. – Tim Fountain Oct 22 '10 at 16:01

I'd say other than slight variations in response times and global access points, hosting static content (images, JavaScript, CSS) has essentially been commoditized by the CDN vendors. Where they differ is when you get into more complicated scenarios. BitGravity, for one, specializes in streaming video. I've used Akamai to execute logic on their edge servers to perform complex routing based on origin availability and performance. Some services can even proxy your entire Web experience (commonly called Web Application Acceleration). Akamai does this too, and CloudFlare recently launched to offer the service at a more affordable price.

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There are other contributing factors that go into the success of a CDN partner beyond just the scope of which one offers the fastest delivery.

I have heard some stories of media sites which have had outages because their hosting provider doesnt fully understand the challenges of content delivery and working with a CDN network.

I would recommend checking with your provider to see if they have a partnership with a CDN like Akamai who are the leaders in this function. There are many more benefits of having a cloud solution provider whom functions and partners with the CDN network and it will usually also include a better scale economically with price savings than being tied into the service directly.

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