The past five years have been exciting in terms of how hosting opportunities have changed. Not only have prices have come down across the board, cloud hosting accounts have improved reliability and scalability and content delivery networks (CDNs) have become more approachable, it has all happened seemingly in the blink of an eye.
However, CloudFlare is poised to change the game once again, providing webmasters with a powerful tool that can speed up existing sites, make them more secure and even keep sites alive when their server goes down.
Best of all, it is completely free and requires no installation, just a modification to one’s DNS settings.
How CloudFlare Works
Once you sign up for an account with CloudFlare, you then are instructed to change your site’s DNS settings to point to CloudFlare’s servers rather than your own. Setup usually takes less than five minutes though there can be a 24-hour delay while the DNS changes propagate out.
CloudFlare also has the ability to detect malicious users visiting your site and either issue challenges to them or, in many cases, outright block them. This can help reduce the number of attackers or spammers who have access to your site.
All in all, CloudFlare makes itself a gateway to your site uses that position as an opportunity to speed up content delivery and keep bad guys out, a win-win for webmasters.
The Benefits of CloudFlare
Once running on your site, CloudFlare has a series of benefits that make it a compelling solution.
- Speed Improvement: By taking advantage of its CDN for delivering static content, it can speed up sites dramatically, often cutting loading time in half.
- Reduce Server Load: Since CloudFlare handles many of the user requests, the actual server does much less work, taking a great deal of the load off of it.
- Improve Security: By filtering out known attacks, CloudFlare makes a site more secure.
- Backup: If your site should go down, any recently-accessed pages can be cached by CloudFlare, at least allowing your visitors to see a static version of your content.
All in all, considering that CloudFlare, for a basic account, is free, it can be a very compelling and powerful service to use. Besides, even if CloudFlare does have a problem, it merely redirects the traffic from its servers to yours, making as if it was never there at all.
Basic vs. Pro
As powerful as CloudFlare’s basic, free account is, it does offer a “Pro” one for $20 per month.
The pro account offers the same features as the free one but the pro account ads more advanced security, more frequently-updated statistics and a website preloader that loads popular pages into the user’s cache after they first arrive, making subsequent page loads even faster.
Additional pro features are promised in the future as CloudFlare is, at this time, still technically a beta product.
All in all, CloudFlare is a very powerful tool and already has many compelling features. Though using a beta product, especially one that needs you to change your DNS, is a nerve-racking experience. After Hostgator has decided to trust CloudFlare’s service we tried it at storemed and it works like a charm.
There aren’t many sites CloudFlare can’t help at least some so it’s worth taking a look and seeing if it’s right for you.
Considering it’s a free service that you can leave at any time with a mere adjustment of your DNS, there’s very little to lose.