Popular Los Angeles-based provider MaxCDN has been accelerating website performance since 2009. The company is now owned by StackPath, which offers an enhanced version of the CDN, but at the moment MaxCDN is also providing products under its own name.
MaxCDN's core network covers North America (8 edge locations), Europe (3, plus two in London) and South America (Sao Paolo). You can add five additional locations – Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Israel – for an extra $15 (£11) a month.
The service supports all the core features you'd expect: origin pull (the CDN fetches and caches files as required); origin push (you send your files to the CDN); GZip compression; real-time cache purging; free shared SSL, or your own custom SSL certificate; detailed real-time reporting, and a comprehensive web dashboard to tie it all together.
MaxCDN's custom EdgeRules provide all kinds of configuration options. You can force the use of HTTPS connections, block or redirect by country or referrer, redirect bots from the CDN to your origin, hide headers to minimise transferred data, and more. You're able to create and manage separate caches, perhaps one for desktops and another for mobile devices.
An API gives access to many more automation and management possibilities. You don't have to be a developer to take advantage of the service, either. If you're familiar with writing batch files, the bundled MaxCDI command line tools enable controlling most CDN tasks from your own scripts.
All this comes with 24/7 support included, via phone and live chat. The company promises speedy responses times, too, averaging under one minute for live chat, and they're not making this up (we tried it – they were even faster than promised).
MaxCDN pricing is simple and straightforward, at least in CDN terms. There are multiple plans, each with their own bandwidth limit: just choose the one that matches your data transfer requirements and you're ready to go.
This starts with $9 (£7.20) a month for a 100GB account, paid monthly; $7.50 (£6) if you pay for a year upfront. If you run over the 100GB limit, MaxCDN charges a reasonable overage rate of $0.08 per GB. The account supports up to two ‘zones’. That could be two websites, or two separate caches for the same site.
A 1TB account can be yours for $79 (£63) a month paid monthly, and $0.06 per GB if you need more. That covers you for up to five websites.
The high-end Entrepreneur accounts cut the per-GB prices further. The 5TB plan costs $299 (£239) a month, covers up to seven websites and charges $0.05 per extra GB. The Entrepreneur range also supports extra add-ons. A dedicated IP for SSL costs $99 (£79) a month (shared SSL is available to everyone for free), and a Secure Tokens scheme gives you more control over who downloads your content, provides the ability to limit downloads per user, and more.
There are no extra charges for requests, whether they're HTTP or HTTPS, and data transfers are charged at the same rate for every location.
The only catch to consider is the premium locations – Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Israel – which cost an extra $15 (£11) a month per website. If you're a 100GB per month user, you'll get more locations and (probably) better value from a service like Amazon CloudFront. But if you don't need the extra locations, or you're using 500GB bandwidth or more, MaxCDN offers good value.
MaxCDN used to have a free trial, but not anymore – these days you have to live with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Still, monthly billing means you can get started by handing over as little as $9 (£7.20), and there are no sneaky conditions to the guarantee. If you're unhappy, you really will get your money back.
The signup process requires parting with a lot of personal information. You’ll need to provide your email address, full name, a company name, phone number and physical address. Payment options include PayPal, credit or debit card.
Once you've handed over your cash, a nicely designed startup page offers convenient links to startup guides, tutorials and the MaxCDN knowledgebase. We also noticed a ‘schedule a call’ button to get help from the support team, although clicking it told us “this booking page has been disabled temporarily!” Oops.
MaxCDN works by creating ‘zones’, separate caches to hold your specified content. You can create a ‘pull zone’ to automatically pull the data you specify on the first request for the file. It's also possible to create a ‘push zone’ where you upload your content to the CDN, maybe a better choice for large files which rarely change. A VOD zone enables streaming videos by RTMP. A well-designed web dashboard clearly explains the differences between zone types, and enables creating them simply by entering a name and a URL.
Zones are created at speed, typically in under a minute during our tests. You're then allocated a MaxCDN domain name like "mydomain.uctrok4wqyuuiz741.maxcdn-edge.com". Change your site code to point to an object (mydomain.uctrok4wqyuuiz741.maxcdn-edge.com/images/image.jpg), then MaxCDN fetches it from mydomain.com/images/image.jpg on the first request and stores it in the cache. Future accesses fetch the object from the nearest CDN location, hopefully speeding up your site.
A Settings panel provides some useful ways to control and manage the system. You can set an alternative domain name (a CNAME record) like cdn.mydomain.com, a more readable and SEO-friendly way to set up the site. You're able to define the length of time an object remains in the cache, purge individual files or clear the entire cache and start again (maybe useful when you've updated your site and need visitors to see that immediately).
Useful performance tweaks include optional GZip compression, with adjustable compression levels. You can also have MaxCDN ignore cookies in requests, reducing data transfer requirements and improving site speeds.
MaxCDN doesn't have as many settings as more advanced services, such as Amazon CloudFront, but it's also relatively easy to set up and use. Tooltips give you a quick understanding of the basics, the website has assorted tutorials and FAQs, and there's 24/7 support included. We tried the live chat and within two minutes had a helpful and accurate answer to our product question.
MaxCDN's reports are a definite plus. A ‘summary’ console gives you a scrolling real-time view of zone requests per second, bandwidth per second and cache hits percentage. If your site isn't quite that active, you can view CDN usage in hourly blocks, organise it by file type or status code, or view the top 50 files. The Edge Locations tab is a visual highlight, listing traffic by region and visualising CDN activity on a world map.
The website doesn't always work as you expect, and there are a few issues in the more distant corners of the service. Click the MaxCLI button to grab MaxCDN's command line tools, for instance, and you're redirected to a GitHub page. One of the alerts warns you that "maxtail currently isn't working as intended", a message first posted back in 2014.
Still, look past the occasional flaws and MaxCDN is an appealing service, straightforward to set up, with some useful configuration options, and plenty of help available if you need it.
Figuring out which is the fastest CDN is a real challenge, as there's no one simple answer. Performance varies based on location, and every website has its own mix of visitors: what's best for Europe and Japan won't necessarily work for America or India.
CDNPerf offers a simple starting point by interpreting real user monitoring data (via Cedexis) covering billions of tests.
In July 2017 MaxCDN's highlight was its performance in the US, with the service achieving first place out of 24 contenders.
In the UK the company was equal first place with Fastly, Level3 and Tata (Bitgravity). That's not quite as impressive as it sounds because the differences are tiny, with just a 3ms difference in response time between the top 16 services.
MaxCDN doesn't score nearly as well when you look at continent-wide performance, presumably due to its relatively small network. It rated sixth in North America, 17th in Europe and 20th in Asia.
We cross-checked this data with the more detailed view at the Cedexis site, and it gave us a similar picture. Performance is excellent in some areas, with much less variation throughout the day than some of the competition, and if most of your visitors are in the US or UK it could be a great choice. But the lack of global coverage means that more distant countries will see minimal speed improvement.
MaxCDN is easy to set up and manage, good value, and offers great performance in the UK and US. There aren't many locations outside of Europe and North America, though – this isn't a CDN for users who need a global reach.
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