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Using CloudFlare to Enhance your Web Hosting

Pros and cons of using a CDN (Content Delivery Network), such as CloudFlare, to increase your web hosting account’s performance and security.

Web hosting with Cloudflare

There are things that the majority of hosting companies do well, and there are things they don’t do well; such as providing enterprise-class hosting security for shared hosting customers.

Security For The Masses

To provide your own high-end protection against hackers, you have to have the kind of knowledge that people get from an advanced IT education. Business owners just getting started with hosting don’t have time or resources for that kind of effort.

Enter CloudFlare. CloudFlare is a web hosting security service that has been around for and has mitigated some of the worst attacks in history. For example, in February 2014, it stopped a record-breaking “distributed denial-of-service” (DDoS) attack. A DDoS attack is when a hacker launches an army of “zombie” computers programmed to make so many document requests of a single website that it gets overwhelmed and is unavailable to legitimate visitors.

CloudFlare is making continual improvements through original features being added and through acquisition. In February 2014, CloudFlare acquired StopTheHacker to add malware (virus) detection, automatic malware removal, and reputation and blacklist monitoring. And, in June 2014, it acquired CryptoSeal, a company that extends web user security.

Enterprise-level Performance

Switching to a new and faster web hosting company is no longer the only solution to a slow website. In addition to security, CloudFlare provides enhanced performance for any web hosting account. If you like your current web host, but want your website(s) hosted on your account to load faster, you can try using CloudFlare. CloudFlare had its beginnings as a CDN (Content Delivery Network) which automatically optimizes the delivery of your data.

In a case study for a web content optimization of ZenDesk, a popular online customer support tool used by businesses worldwide, CloudFlare reports a 10-fold improvement in global response time and 6-fold improvement in targeted content delivery time.

How CloudFlare Works With Your Current Hosting

CloudFlare is not itself a web hosting service. This means that you can keep your current web host and add CloudFlare to it. Basically, CloudFlare operates on the network level and supports virtually every web host. Some web hosts, like Bluehost and GreenGeeks for example, have partnered with CloudFlare making it super easy to activate CloudFlare directly from your web hosting account. If you are with a web host that does not offer integrated CloudFlare support, you can still sign up with CloudFlare separately on the CloudFlare website. However, you will need to change your domain’s DNS settings to match CloudFlare’s nameservers.

CloudFlare in GreenGeeks control panel
A screenshot of GreenGeek's cPanel control panel, where CloudFlare is integrated by default for quick & easy activation.

CloudFlare is easy to set up, even if your web host is not partnered with it. This author has set up several hosting accounts in 5 minutes or less to use CloudFlare.

How Much Does CloudFlare Cost?

CloudFlare’s basic services are free, but the upgraded packages are very affordable and quite attractive for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The Pro package, which is up one notch from the free one, adds on even faster site performance, better support for mobile devices, and a web application firewall. It will set you back $20/month for your first site but only an additional $5 for each additional site.

The Business package gives you all the Pro features, better Denial-of-Service protection, and Railgun, which helps get your content overseas more quickly. At $200/month, you’ll find that a steal when compared to the expense and frustration of trying to build that kind of reliability and security from scratch.

The Enterprise package, admittedly quite pricey at $5,000/month, gives you The Whole Enchilada. That’s everything in the Pro and Business package, plus setup help, a dedicated account manager, 24/7 phone support, and a 2500% service level agreement.

With all plans, you never get charged for bandwidth. You can even mix plan types to suit your needs. Upgrading and downgrading at any time is no sweat, and you only get charged once per month for the whole thing. More details on the specific features of each plan are available on CloudFlare’s pricing page.

CloudFlare’s Accolades

CloudFlare has earned several awards recently. They include:

  • Best Enterprise Startup by Techcrunch at the 8th Annual Crunchies Awards in February, 2015
  • Most Innovative Network & Internet Technology Company for two years running by the Wall Street Journal
  • A rating as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum
  • Being ranked among the world's 10 most innovative companies by Fast Company

Controversies

CloudFlare, with all it's benefits, is not completely insulated from controversy, though.

For example, in March 2014, CloudFlare was ranked in the top 10 of the world's worst hosts and networks based on malicious traffic it hosts by SiteVet Beta. And, two of ISIS' top three online chat forums were also guarded by CloudFlare. Law Enforcement has not asked them to discontinue the service. As of the time of this writing, CloudFlare did not respond to requests for more information about the ISIS chat forums. The watchdog site CrimeFlare.com lays out its case for why CloudFlare cannot be trusted with data security.

There are other problems people have reported, such as load times actually slowing down and pageview statistics being inflated. Some claim that CloudFlare calls itself a CDN, but in actuality it is more of a reverse-proxy, which is not considered a true CDN.

If you find that these issues are insurmountable for your purposes, you can try other CDN/security services such as Akamai.com, Incapsula.com, or FireHost.com. These alternatives can also offer cost savings over CloudFlare depending on your particular needs.

Conclusion

In conclusion, CloudFlare may be a good solution to increasing your web hosting account’s security and performance without having to spend a lot. The free version works well also. It still depends on the performance of the hosting servers used by your web host, but CloudFlare can ultimately deliver your content up faster and securely.

About the author


  • Rob Watson
  • Rob Watson is a seasoned hosting professional who has been building and hosting websites since 1995. He met and married a woman who had once dated a founding programmer at Netscape who had helped to build Mosaic, the first Web browser. Through that connection, Rob met the person who wrote the first Apache web server software and was able to rub digital elbows with him in getting help with configuring the revolutionary and, now, ubiquitous open source web server software for his own projects.

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