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Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront both provide content delivery network features, but the services operate in fundamentally different ways. Choosing the right CDN offering depends on an IT team's priorities.
A content delivery network (CDN) is a group of geographically distributed servers that quickly delivers internet content. When an end user loads a website or application that needs to access data stored in the CDN, the data is downloaded from the server closest to the end user's locations. This proximity improves availability and responsiveness.
Let's break down the differences between these two CDN options as we compare Cloudflare vs. Amazon CloudFront to find the right fit for your IT needs.
How Cloudflare and CloudFront differ
Cloudflare and Amazon CloudFront offer similarly large networks of data centers to distribute copies of data. Amazon CloudFront has 140 locations, while Cloudflare has about 150. However, operational differences between the two affect their features and overall user experience.
Cloudflare uses a reverse-proxy architecture to manage data. Rather than use cloud providers' default name servers, websites and apps are configured to use Cloudflare's nameservers. Requests go through Cloudflare servers, which determine how to route traffic.
In Amazon CloudFront, IT teams don't change name server settings. Instead, they set up copies -- called distributions -- of the data they want to distribute. These data distributions have unique URLs, and admins use the URLs to help direct requests to the CloudFront CDN. The tool decides which server within the network should respond to a CloudFront URL request based on the geographic origin of the request.
Accessibility via URLs
Cloudflare doesn't require special URLs, while Amazon CloudFront content is only accessible via configured URLs.
This means that Cloudflare can route requests for a site like "example.com" through its CDN. With Amazon CloudFront, requests are instead directed to something like "alongurlfullofrandomcharacters.example.com" in order to be routed through the CDN. These special URL configurations make Amazon CloudFront more complicated to set up than Cloudflare, where the process requires little more than pointing name servers to the right location.
IT teams can use Amazon CloudFront's simple yet granular data management controls to handle each component of their sites or apps. Cloudflare also offers fine-tuned controls for content management, but it does so through an API, which is more complex to configure.
Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection
Cloudflare offers additional features beyond a basic CDN, such as anti-DDoS protection via its Magic Transit feature. Amazon CloudFront isn't designed as a DDoS protection service; instead, admins need to use AWS Shield.
How to choose a cloud CDN
Once you understand the key differences between Amazon CloudFront and Cloudflare, you'll need to determine which one best meets your IT team's needs. Below are some examples that might help you make the final choice.
When to choose Amazon CloudFront
In general, CloudFront is the best choice when a business:
- already uses AWS;
- only needs to handle some data with the CDN; and
- designs its website or app so users won't see "ugly" CloudFront URLs.
When to choose Cloudflare
Cloudflare is a great choice when:
- easy setup is a priority;
- the CDN manages most of the content; and
- there are additional networking and security features needed beyond just a CDN.
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