CDN (Content Delivery Network) and the Need for Speed

So, I host my blog and other websites with Hosting Matters, the folks have been great to me over the past decade and prices I have locked in are absolutely phenomenal (seriously – they are great). As with anyone who is on a shared hosting plan, network and server resources are divided across anyone else that is assigned that device, so response times sometimes get out of whack. I figured I’d try a Content Delivery Network to try to speed things up by offloading static content to the CDN.

I played around with  WordPress’ Jetpack Photon CDN service, which completely fails for a photoblog – images are cached forever with no way to clear the cache other than to rename your images. Typically, with a typical blog this may be fine – but the image permalinks are important to me… so that solution was kicked to the curb. I also tried a couple of others, each had their good points, but failed miserably for other reasons.

Speed up your site with a CDN : Half Speed Ahead by RyanRenaissance - Used with permission Creative Commons License
Half Speed Ahead by RyanRenaissance – Original image Creative Commons License (CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

And the (current) winner is …

This lead me to try out Incapsula‘s free CDN services. I set them up on this domain last night in about 5m, made the changes to my DNS records and about 20% of my traffic is now being served through the CDN. Moving the static bits up to a CDN for delivery seems to have greatly improved my response and load times – although I still have a number of tweaks to do with my .htaccess file’s HTTP Header cache controls to fine tune things. For example, my images rarely change so I can set the HTTP header to expire on JPG and GIF files every month (currently 1 week).

This also explains the small floating icon on the bottom right of all my pages. As I am using the free plan, they insert a small advertising graphic to the site. I wasn’t sure I was going to be ok with it, but it is small, out of the way, and mostly unobtrusive. Until I decide to upgrade to a paid plan, it is what it is. As the free plan is pretty much all that I need for a personal photoblog, I don’t see a reason to upgrade to be honest – other than to remove that web ad.

As I am leaving for New Zealand today, if anything goes awry, I’ll fix it when I get to my hotel and pump coffee into me intravenously. The fact is that the CDN has been running live now for 24 hours without a problem, and I don’t expect anything to implode.

While I am not yet ready to endorse the product, I will say it was easy to configure, worked out of the box, and has already stopped 15 attempted attacks on the blog … and the price is right (free).

Update 28 May 2017

As I moved this site over to Amazon Lightsail, I was able to start using SSL/TLS certificates created by Lets Encrypt and that caused me to drop the CDN entirely. This was purely a cost issue, as I have not (yet) found a reasonable priced CDN/Proxy that supports TLS. As a personal/hobby site, I simply cannot justify the costs of using TLS via a CDN. Ultimately it came down to; do I want to support a secure platform, or do I want to support a CDN for my site. As a security professional, there really was no choice.Β 

John P. Hoke

John P. Hoke headshot

Cyber Security Professional, Photographer, Coffee Junkie, Mac Addict, Craft Beer & Whiskey connoisseur, all around curmudgeon and generally sarcastic SOB – Not necessarily in that order.

The opinions expressed on this blog are mine alone and not those of my employer, family, pets, the voices in my head, or anyone else for that matter … hell in an hour they may not be mine either πŸ™‚

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