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Amazon CloudFront Vs. Cloudflare: How to Choose the Right CDN

Laurent Giret

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Cloud Computing and Security

Cloudflare with Amazon CloudFront are two of the most renowned and reliable content delivery networks (CDNs) on the market. In addition to speeding up your content delivery and load times, they can both provide great benefits to your organization. In this Amazon CloudFront vs. Cloudflare comparison, we’ll walk you through the features, cost, performance, and other key differentiators to take into account to choose the best CDN for your business.

What are Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront?

Content delivery networks are being used all over the world by several industries such as digital content, e-commerce, media/publishing, and SaaS companies for their everyday operations. All these organizations are leveraging CDNs to speed up load times, improve scalability, minimize risks associated with traffic surges, and improve the overall service performance of websites. CDNs can do that by leveraging a network of nodes and servers spread out across multiple Internet backbones.

CDNs are built with a network of nodes and servers spread out across multiple Internet backbones.

Cloudflare is one of the most popular CDNs out there, and it’s capable of increasing the security and speed of websites, applications, APIs, and corporate networks. In addition to its CDN offer, Cloudflare offers other application services such as DNS, load balancing, video streaming, DDoS attacks protection, web application firewall (WAF), analytics, domain registry, and more. 

Amazon CloudFront is the CDN service launched by Amazon Web Services back in 2008, two years before Cloudflare launched its own CDN. Amazon CloudFront offers built-in security and low latency with high transfer speeds, and it also supports handy integrations with almost all services offered by AWS. 

While both Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront can help you achieve your organizational goals and meet your requirements from a CDN system, they don’t offer the exact same set of features and functionality. Let’s look at how both these tools work. 

How do Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront work?

Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront are two of the most-used services to bring down load times and ensure better bandwidth utilization across the Internet. To understand how Cloudflare and AWS CloudFront work, let’s take a concrete example with a basic web request scenario.

AWS CloudFront and Cloudflare are two of the most popular content delivery networks.

When there are too many visitors requesting resources from web servers simultaneously, the response time gets delayed due to the server overloading. To prevent this from happening, both CloudFront and Cloudflare set up their own servers that act as actual servers and proxy servers between the websites and their web servers. This way, both CDNs act as an intermediary to facilitate data transfers and responses to the requests made from the cached data.

When a new and unique request comes in, both CDNs contact the primary or the origin server to get the information, cache it locally, and provide it to the user as a response. This process also helps to bring down latency when the web server and web request are from two geographically distant places. 

Cloudflare vs. Amazon CloudFront: Key features

Let’s take a closer look at some of the major features offered by Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront. 

Cloudflare

Here are the main features and benefits Cloudflare provides to its customers:

  • Static and dynamic content delivery.
  • Advanced control and customization of CDN. 
  • Reduction of the overall network bandwidth consumption.
  • Granular visibility of the cached data.
  • API programmability.
  • Web security through SSLs and DDoS protection.
  • Intelligent and dynamic traffic routing to avoid network congestion.

Amazon CloudFront

Here are the main features offered by Amazon CloudFront, which benefits from being part of the sprawling Amazon Web Services ecosystem:

  • Globally connected edge network.
  • Seamless integrations with other services in the AWS ecosystem.
  • Real-time data and network metrics along with logging.
  • Programmable CDN services.
  • Data redundancy by setting up multiple origins.  
Chart showing how AWS CloudFront works

If there are definitely some similarities between Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront, let’s take a closer look at the main differences between these two CDN services.

Amazon CloudFront vs. Cloudflare: The main differences

Although both CDNs are meant to address the same issue of bringing the load times down, they have certain operational and working differences. To help you choose the right service for you and your business, here’s a comparison table detailing the major differences between CloudFront and Cloudflare.

OperationsCloudflareAmazon CloudFront
Architecture and data deliveryUses reverse proxy servers to serve the requests where websites and services are configured to use CloudFlare’s nameserversUses actual servers to reduce load times
CachingCaches content on the proxy servers as close to the end users as possible for faster request-response cycles.Leverages Amazon S3 buckets to store the cache
CDNCloudflare uses multiplexing to deliver contentCloudFront uses level-3 cache headers to deliver content
Scale and DistributionMore than 200 data centers distributed across 270 cities across 100+ countriesDistributed across 225+ CloudFront edge locations in 90 cities across 47 countries
LatencyComparatively higher latency than CloudFrontLower latency due to edge network topology
ControlProvides better caching and HTTP headers controlSetting up cache and HTTP headers control is possible but requires a more complex configuration
Accessibility Cloudflare doesn’t require dedicated or special URLs for accessibilityAmazon CloudFront’s content can only be accessed via configured URLs
CostOffers different tier-based pricing to meet the requirements of different businessesAmazon CloudFront offers on-demand pricing with different tiers 

Is there a clear winner?

While both Cloudflare and CloudFront are meant to address similar problems in traditional web request/response cycles, there are certain differences that makes each of them the best in choice in specific scenarios. 

If your organization is just starting to build a network and wants to avoid the overhead of complex system configurations, then Cloudflare may be the best option as it’s easy to set up and configure. Moreover, if you need to protect your network from cyberattacks such as DDoS, Cloudflare is built with security in mind.

Additionally, Cloudflare is a great choice if you require your CDN to manage and distribute the majority of your content or data. Cloudflare also provides better control over data caching, and it’s great for building static content services such as WordPress sites or image-sharing sites due to its image optimization capabilities.

On the other hand, if you’ve already configured your systems to work in or with the AWS ecosystem, then Amazon CloudFront is an obvious choice given the ease of integration and cost structure. CloudFront is also a great option if you’re looking to provide live or pre-recorded content to your users thanks to its in-built streaming capabilities. 

Chart showing how AWS CloudFront works

Conclusion

Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront have been around long enough to provide reliable services under heavy loads. While there are subtle differences in the way they work and the features they offer, both CDNs should be an excellent choice for your organization. They can handle traffic spikes and improve the overall speed and performance of your web services.

Amazon CloudFront and Cloudflare also offer free plans and tiers for you to get started before you decide what service to go with. No matter which service you’ll end up choosing, it is essential for you to have a well-designed network architecture and infrastructure to help you grow your business.

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