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Amazon CloudFront vs. Cloudflare

Content Delivery Networks (CDN) are a series of global servers installed with the intention of streamlining and optimizing content delivery to end users. This is accomplished by localizing the information being accessed in a region near the user to reduce the time it takes for that information to travel to and from the servers. There are plenty of moving parts to this system and AWS does provide its own set of tools for ensuring distribution of your content.

The Basis of CDN Services

CDN has been a technology implemented since the earliest days of browser-based internet’s existence.  However, it was limited in the type of content it could deliver, only being able to cache static content such as basic JS and images.  Improvements to CDN technology allow for the delivery of more dynamic content that cannot be cached and requires more server-side computation, such as shopping carts and user comments.

With that established, there is still a wide field of application that CDN is applied to, such as:

  • Optimizing the user experience by delivering content faster.
  • Mitigates internet traffic congestion, redirecting activity through different routes so that companies can continue to maintain their online presence.  This is especially useful for e-commerce or social media websites as well as smaller websites to remain functional and competitive.
  • Stems the damage done by distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
  • Offers modern SaaS CDN solutions that are readily affordable for smaller companies.

Cloudflare

Cloudflare originally launched back in 2007 and provides a variety of utilities and security options to multiple regions.  As well as being readily available to ninety-five percent of the global population within fifty milliseconds, it has direct access to over two hundred cities in a hundred different countries.  It also offers free TSL and SSL encryption, API protection, and load balancing to ensure even traffic.  Finally, it utilizes some very flexible rate-limiting tools to prevent DDoS attacks, brute-force attacks, traffic surges, and general cyberattacks on APIs.  Overall, Cloudflare stops several million threats per day.

Amazon CloudFront

CloudFront is Amazon’s offer for CDN with a much greater emphasis on distribution while offloading the need for security onto AWS’ security services.  CloudFront is generally the better option if the aim is to distribute services as quickly as possible - especially if the service is already integrated with AWS infrastructure.  Though the scale of CloudFront is generally more condensed, it has over three hundred access points across ninety cities in forty-seven different countries on top of partnerships with tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 telecom carriers across the globe.  As for local server computation, computing functionality is provided by CloudFront Functions and AWS Lambda.

While CloudFront does have a greater emphasis on distribution, that’s not to say the services that are based on it are vulnerable to attack.  Amazon Route 53, AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), and AWS Shield are all native options to AWS, and work against network-layer and application-layer attacks.   CloudFront also utilizes SSL/TSL encryption and HTTPS protocols to ensure any data sent is protected.  Under the circumstances of an attack and a server is forced offline or is down for maintenance, AWS does have redundancy functionality to ensure constant application uptime.

Finally, like other AWS services, CloudFront is designed to be incredibly cost-effective, able to shift whatever resources are required online and offline depending on activity.  This ensures users only need to pay for what they need to use at that given moment.

Main Differences

As discussed, Cloudflare’s primary focus is security while CloudFront’s focus is ensuring the rapid distribution of services to customers.  There are a few other functional differences between the two services such as:

  • Cloudflare is built on reverse proxies that allow traffic to pass through, while Amazon CloudFront is an actual server that delivers content from edge servers close to users’ locations.
  • Cloudflare caches its server content close to end-users, while Amazon CloudFront utilizes Amazon S3 buckets for local caching.
  • Different methodology for fetching content from worldwide. Cloudflare uses multiplexing, while Amazon CloudFront uses level 3 cache headers.
  • Cloudflare’s CDN infrastructure is significantly larger than the Amazon CloudFront CDN network.
Dolan Cleary
Dolan Cleary

I am a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin - Stout and am now working with AllCode as a web technician.

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