B2B CDN Revivew – CacheFly

In previous posts here and here I have discussed Content Delivery Networks in general. Today, I want to dig a bit deeper.

CacheFly is a price-point based Content Deliver Network provider that has positioned itself as the CDN of first consideration for small businesses and first time adopters. Their business strategy seems to reflect this on their website by openly promoting prices, something few other CDNs do. They seem to have aggressively positioned their services into the larger pool of start-ups, cost conscious companies, and focused industries who need fewer services. This could make them a good partner to consider for a B2B company looking to start out with a CDN. I have a different opinion, which you can read under ‘Personal Take’.

Their moniker is ‘Stop Hosting – Start Delivering’ which may mean something to their core audience but to this network engineer is a distinction without a difference. It may be a reference to their more fixed package service offerings; a unique feature of what I will term a discounted CDN service. Many CDNs will try to mold packages of their offerings into solutions that are meant to apply broadly for specific customers. CacheFly seems to have taken a different approach, whereby customers often know what they want and need and simply select the package of services that fits. For companies more traditionally comfortable with solution providers than technical sales reps, this can be a bit jarring. Many online service providers are using this model, however, so it does behoove you to look closer at this style of partnership.

CacheFly has four categories of service: Software Downloads, Web Performace, Streaming, and Podcasting. Each of these categories uses the foundational technique of distributed hosting servers, discussed in the first post. A demonstration of how CacheFly applies the technology can be seen here. A deep discussion on how the TCP stack handles windowing would great fun, and I welcome anyone to email me if you are looking for more technical explanations on how it all works. They have a light-weight crib on the subject to get you started.

Software Downloads – This service is what you would think it is. If you have files that you want to get to your user base you usually put them up somewhere on your site. The larger the files become, the larger the number of files and the more people downloading them all add up to high bandwidth usage on our host site. That high bandwidth may both cost you excessively if you are over a threshold or delay your customers significantly in downloading the files.

Website Performance All websites are not created equal. The prevailing trend in websites recently has been to offer constantly updated content, backended by a database and a Content Management System (CMS) For sites like these, CDNs are not of much help. If, however, your site is of a more static nature you can some or all of the pages hosted at the CDN for rapid response times. Many B2B have small, flash based sites that can greatly benefit from a CDN’s hosting network.

Streaming Media See my earlier post for information on Streaming Media and where it can be used. Here, CacheFly is offering Progressive Downloads as their service for streaming, which is a bit of a misnomer in my book. Still, with the popularity of YouTube using HTTP Progressive, their core market likely has also focused on that type of video offering so it makes some sense.

Podcasting Not much different than Streaming Media or Software Downloads. Here the target file is either audio or audio/video.

Personal Take As this is a review site, I like to interject my personal opinion of the products and services I review. CacheFly is a well priced option. Pricing is available here. There are lower priced CDNs, but none I would consider as reputable. I have personally used the CachFly technology recently and have had good results with the hosting. There is a downside with them, however. As is common with discounted service providers, their customer support is mediocre at best. Email only options for contact are, in my opinion, acceptable for only a smaller subset of technically savvy customers. Even the emails were delayed in response, indicating to me an over subscribed support system. They handle very large tech podcasts, like Diggnation from Revision3. The success of these shows may be over inflating their customer base, I don’t know. My personal recommendation is to not try CacheFly as your first introduction to a CDNs. If you are a veteran, then they will save you money. For all others, the waters are just too choppy to be doing it without a reliable life jacket.

Addendum (4/17/08) – CacheFly does have 24/7 phone support. Customers using their customer portal, as we were, did not see this option. This has now been fixed.

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