Everything you need to know about Cloudflare.

Craig Greenup 17/08/22, 15:26

Everything you need to know about Cloudflare

Cloudflare is one of those things that many people have heard of but struggle to understand or explain. To clear up the confusion, we’ve put together this guide to all things Cloudflare including what it is and what you can do with it. First things first, Cloudflare is a content delivery network (CDN). A CDN is a group of servers located geographically to deliver online content quickly and efficiently to a particular region.

In simple terms, the Cloudflare CDN allows content to be transferred rapidly from the servers to allow for better loading speeds and more responsiveness. The content it transfers can be HTML pages, Javascript files, stylesheets, images, and videos, though there are additional formats that are also served in this way. The main aim of Cloudflare is to build a better internet, and many of the most highly visited websites use it – including sites like Amazon, Netflix and Facebook.

If you are familiar with the role of web hosts you might be wondering whether Cloudflare fulfils a similar role. In some ways it is similar to a hosting service, though Cloudflare itself does not host content and should not be thought of as a replacement for proper hosting. What the Cloudflare CDN does is to cache content closer to where it will be needed, allowing it to be delivered more quickly and securely when requested.

The process of caching information in this way allows for the pain points associated with traditional hosting to be addressed, and there are many benefits to using it. It is one of the largest networks in the world, and can be used by anyone with a presence online to deliver faster, more responsive and more secure websites and apps to their users.

The people behind the project

Cloudflare hasn’t always looked the way it does today, in fact, its original form began as a project designed to root out and track email spam. It was the brainchild of founders Lee Holloway and Matthew Prince, who launched the concept under the name Project Honeypot in 2004. Michelle Zatlyn, Cloudflare’s current COO, joined the team in 2009 and the scope of the project expanded to focus on tracking internet threats and defending websites from such threats. Cloudflare launched as a private entity in 2010, and in conjunction with the Project Honeypot community its work was found to increase site security and improve speeds by up to a third on average. With this achievement under their belt, they decided to open Cloudflare to the public in 2019.

But how does it work?

The best way to explain how everything works is to consider how things used to be done. In the internet’s early years, a user would request a particular website and the request would go between their computer and the server hosting the site, which would then deliver the requested site.

It was fairly common for servers to become overloaded with requests during peak times, causing them to crash and making the content inaccessible to users. With Cloudflare, this two point process gained an additional layer of security and accessibility because the Cloudflare network sits in the middle, between the user and the hosting server.

As mentioned, the Cloudflare network operates locally, so rather than a user requesting and being served information that may be hosted halfway around the world, the information is coming from a localised source known as an edge network. The fact that the network is so localised means that you get the information as quickly as possible, and the caching capabilities mean less pressure is put on hosting servers so they’re less likely to crash.

How you can benefit from Cloudflare

There are loads of benefits to using Cloudflare’s CDN, and every company with an online presence can benefit from using it no matter how small or large they are. Cloudflare serves more than 12 million users around the world and has gained significant amounts of data that makes it possible to streamline their service for best results.

Boosted content availability

By its very nature, Cloudflare makes it possible to improve the global availability of assets and site content because these components are cached locally rather than needing to be sent between the server and the requester. One of the best things about this part of the process is that it can work independently of the hosting, meaning your users are far less likely to be affected by any downtime coming from the hosting servers.

Front line defence against DDoS and DoS attacks

One of the most attractive benefits of using Cloudflare is that it is extremely well placed to protect sites against malicious attacks such as DDoS and DoS. When one of these attacks is taking place, the attacker will send huge amounts of junk traffic to a site in a bid to overload and crash it. Having Cloudflare’s CDN in place means that the requests sent from the attacker must go through the CDN network first, and luckily CDNs are capable of absorbing huge amounts of traffic so the site can remain up and running.

Better website performance

One of the major indicators of a high performance website is its ability to produce fast loading speeds. Most of your users will not wait more than a few seconds for your website to load, and if it takes longer it’s likely to leave a negative impression of your brand, so by serving them a faster website you can avoid the pitfalls of high bounce rates caused by slow loading speeds. Websites that use a CDN like Cloudflare can reduce their loading speeds by up to 50%, giving your users an optimal experience. It works by altering the process in three main ways:

  • Optimising file sizes and types
  • Reducing the physical distance that information has to travel between where it’s stored and where it has been requested
  • Providing optimised infrastructure and increased capacity

Unbeatable reliability

Everyone knows that sometimes, despite your best efforts, a website will go down. Whether an outage is because of an overwhelmed network or a metaphorical server fire, using a CDN means that all your assets and information are stored locally and will not be affected. Cloudflare is able to balance the number of requests coming through from your users to avoid server overloading, and in the rare case that a single server goes down it will pass the requests to a backup server in a process known as a ‘failover’. The system makes heavy use of redundancies to make sure your service is not interrupted by factors outside of your control. Even if an entire region’s servers go down for some reason, the workload will be passed on and you can benefit from minimal disruption, if any.

Reduced operational costs

Perhaps this might be surprising, but using the Cloudflare CDN can reduce your operational costs. Website operators can enjoy these reduced costs because the use of a CDN means fewer requests are going between the origin server and the requester. Most web hosts charge their users based on the amount of information they are storing and managing and by using cached versions of the data you can reduce the amount of information that is coming directly from the origin server.

Beyond Cloudflare

As a website operator there are three things you need your site to be: fast, secure and reliable. These are the key ingredients to keeping things running smoothly, whether you operate an ecommerce website, an app, or a popular blog site. Because Cloudflare isn’t a direct replacement for hosting you will still need to make sure you have the right hosting and support package for your site.

We at Radical truly care about our clients and that’s why we make a point of always being there to assist when things go wrong, or simply to offer our expert advice on all aspects of managing your website. Our hosting and support packages are designed to work in tandem with your other security and content delivery measures to provide you with protection and support from all angles.

If you are launching a brand new website, our hosting packages are designed to get you up and running as quickly as possible, and keep everything working optimally with minimal downtime so you can get on with the more important aspects of your business. As part of our hosting packages we will keep all your software and plugins properly updated to keep your site secure and working optimally in accordance with your goals. As standard, we provide:

  • Hosting on a dedicated server, with weekly backups
  • High performance and reliability
  • 24/7 on-going technical support

It can be difficult to keep on top of all the changes in the digital sphere in terms of trends and technologies, and that’s where the team at Radical truly shine. We focus on building lasting partnerships with our clients so we can be there for you every step of the way, giving you access to a skilled team who genuinely care about and understand your business and website, top-class support and assistance, and cost effective and measurable improvements to your website.