Cloudflare Showdown

We have all heard that using CDNs like Cloudflare will speed up your site, but will they really? I put Cloudflare to the test to see if the claims of a faster site are accurate, or if they are just marketing talk to sell CDN services.

 

Cloudflare setup

  • Free account
  • Medium security
  • CDN + Full Optimizations
  • Aggressive caching
  • Auto minify on
  • Rocket loader set to automatic

 

Server Setup

  • VPS 
  • 2gb RAM
  • 1gb port
  • Cent OS
  • Apache
  • Located in Atlanta, Ga US
  • Hosting Webhostingbuzz.com

 

Website software tested

  • Joomla 3.0.2
  • Prestashop 1.4.9
  • WordPress 3.5

 

Testing Tools

  • Pingdom Tools
  • GTmetrix
  • Nuestar Website Testing Tool (this one was used differently than the others, I will explain later)

Disclaimers

All of the website / cms packages are stock installations, they do not have any themes or modules installed on them, other than what comes out of the box. I did not even log into the admin areas of them. The only deviation to this method was using the Neustar test. That test does not support sub directories, so it was ran on wordpress site with a theme on it that is optimized, this site. The tests run not using Cloudflare were also not using the Cloudflare name servers, they were using the hosting companies name servers.  All of the tests were run 3 times and the numbers shown are the average of those 3 testings.

WordPress

Just about everyone is familar with WordPress, it is the most common CMS and blogging platform in the world. The version I used for these tests is the latest version as of writing, 3.5, with the default theme and no enhancements. Remember the tests are run on what the installer installs, no themes, changes or modifications were made.

 

With CloudFlare

 

Amsterdam Server

New York Server

Dallas Server

 

 

.899 Seconds

.361 Seconds

.430 Seconds

 

 

 

Without  CloudFlare

 

Amsterdam Server

New York Server

Dallas Server

 

 

 

2.54 Seconds

.345 Seconds

.351 Seconds

 

 

As you can see from the tests, the only real benefit in using Cloudflare was when the site was loaded from Amsterdam. Cloudflare actually hurt the speed of the site when it was loaded domestically. Now lets check out the results using Joomla.

Joomla

Joomla can be a little bit more resource intensive than WordPress, plus it is set up in a different way and loads a different number of files.  Now lets take a look at the test results for the Joomla website, again it is like the WordPress site, nothing installed or changed.

 

With CloudFlare

 

Amsterdam Server

New York Server

Dallas Server

 

 

1.15 Seconds

.481 Seconds

.548 Seconds

 

 

 

Without  CloudFlare

 

Amsterdam Server

New York Server

Dallas Server

 

 

 

1.77 Seconds

.645 Seconds

.551 Seconds

 

 

Just as with WordPress, the Joomla site loaded faster in Amsterdam, that is not really a surprise.  Cloudflare actually loaded faster in every test with Joomla, which is what should be expected. But look at the margins, in my opinion, they are really trivial.  Now let’s take a look at Prestashop. It is the most resource intensive out of all of the software packages tested.

Prestashop

Prestashop is the  only e-commerce application in the test. One reason it was used is that it takes longer to process on the server, and it also has more http requests than the other packages. I also chose it because it has more images on the front page and big CSS and JS files that Cloudflare could optimize and compress.  The results?

 

With CloudFlare

 

Amsterdam Server

New York Server

Dallas Server

 

 

2.17 Seconds

.783 Seconds

.815 Seconds

 

 

 

Without  CloudFlare

 

Amsterdam Server

New York Server

Dallas Server

 

 

 

2.15 Seconds

.781 Seconds

.830 Seconds

 

 

 

Out of all of the packages tested, this one surprised me the most. Cloudflare was faster in almost every test, but the margin is essentially nothing.

The Last Test

The last test was run on www.dh42.com this site has been highly optimized, it has a 97 Google Page Speed and an A in Yahoo Yslow. So the built in compression and and minification that Cloudflare uses should not matter at all. The reason the site was tested was because of the tool that I used. It is called Neustar Website Performance Test. This test was ran like the Pingdom test, 3 runs 5 minutes apart, with the results averaged together.  To the numbers…

 

With CloudFlare

 

San Deigo Server

Singapore Server

Dublin Server

Washington DC Server

 

 

2.45 Seconds

4.23 Seconds

2.30 Seconds

2.43 Seconds

 

 

 

Without  CloudFlare

 

San Deigo Server

Singapore Server

Dublin Server

Washington DC Server

 

 

 

2.25 Seconds

4.55 Seconds

2.01 Seconds

2.15 Seconds

 

 

 

The time difference in Singapore was the biggest difference in this test, still, it was just a quarter of a second. Considering that Cloudflare lost every other test, really makes the better performance in Singapore not worth the bother.  And the conclusion….

Conclusion

Based off of my results I would not recommend Cloudflare to most of my clients. In many cases it actually hindered the performance of the websites tested. Granted none of the load balancing or security factors were taken into account, but really most average websites would not need them in the first place. The most important thing you do is have a good host, that has reliable fast servers. I am using WebHostingBuzz, and you can see many times their servers were faster than Cloudflares.

These results were very disappointing to me, as I have a lot of US clients that I have actually recommended to Cloudflare based on their claims of websites loading twice as fast by using their CDN. Being purely based on speed I do not think I can recommend them again though.

 

Because I know I will get an angry email or two, just let me say this. I know that Cloudflare touts other features such as security, load balancing, and keeping your site up if your server is offline. I did not test or take any of these features into account. Their biggest sector is to people that want to speed their website up, so I took them to the task on just that claim.

About the Author: Lesley Paone

Lesley has worked in e-commerce for over a decade, and is the founder of dh42. Starting out with PrestaShop and brancing out into other platforms like Shopify. He loves all things e-commerce and loves a challenge, in his spare time he helps moderate several forums on SEO, e-commerce, as well as the PrestaShop forum. If you have any questions for him about any of his articles just use our contact form to contact him.

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