Cloudflare – Top-Notch Security for Your Web Infrastructure

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

At its most basic level, Cloudflare is a really big virtual private network (VPN) that acts as an intermediary between your website, application, or server and the people who use it. Cloudflare’s purpose is to help you achieve a fast and secure connection over the Internet.

Regardless of who hosts your websites, Cloudflare’s worldwide network of over 150 data centers can greatly enhance your page or application loading times, not to mention protect you and your clients. It’s not your average content delivery network (CDN) that needs advanced optimization – you just change your nameservers to use Cloudflare and the service does everything for you.

Image Source: cloudflare.com

Unless you’re using a VPN while you browse the world wide web, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or anyone listening in on your connection can see what you’re doing. Cloudflare’s free 1.1.1.1 public DNS service keeps your data private, so nobody can analyze it or collect and sell it for advertising.

What Is Cloudflare?

One of Cloudflare’s main uses is to filter web traffic and, in fact, it’s one of the most effective security solutions for your websites and servers when it comes to denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. It’s so good that DigitalOcean doesn’t even use a separate DDoS technology: they just advise clients to use Cloudflare.

The network is constantly optimized to block threats such as abuse bots, comment spam, blacklisted sources, much more. Naturally, there are a series of more advanced features for technical users, such as dedicated SSL certificates or HTTP/2, but you can count on the easy-to-use nature of the service to deliver a lot of functionality without you having to do any backend stuff.

Let’s take a look at the main services of Cloudflare’s CDN:

  • DNS. Domain name systems (DNS) is the Internet’s version of a phonebook. Whenever you try to access a website using its name (such as google.com), DNS connects you to the IP address (i.e. 216.58.214.238) associated with it.

The more complex your website, the more DNS requests might be required before you can actually view it. For instance, the text itself might need one, but videos and photos might need their own. If you have an add-on, that might require another DNS lookup and so on. On average, these can take 30 milliseconds each, so the more you have, the more you need to wait for the page to fully load. Cloudflare’s DNS technology resolves these queries faster.

There is a managed DNS version, aimed at enterprises, as well as a free one that individuals can use at their discretion.

Image Source: cloudflare.com
  • Load Balancing. This is a more advanced feature that enables you to intelligently route your traffic based on server performance and geographic location. From your dashboard, you can easily see which nodes are crowded and unresponsive and route your data through the best possible locations.
  • Website Optimization. Website loading times have an outstanding impact on customer retention and conversion. This package offers a series of tools, such as browser insights (in-depth metrics on your web page’s performance), image optimization (optimizes the process of image processing and delivery, which greatly improves page loading times), and enhanced HTTP/2 prioritization.
  • AMP Real URL. Everyone browses the web mobile nowadays and the trend is poised to gain even more traction as mobile devices become more powerful and feature-laden. This aspect of Cloudflare’s services will help your website become faster and more responsive for mobile users.
Image Source: cloudflare.com

Cloudflare Pricing

This all sounds amazing, you might say, but how far back will it set my budget? The good news is that there’s a free Cloudflare CDN, as well as a free DNS resolver for personal or small-scale use. You get DDoS attack mitigation and you benefit from the infrastructure’s top-notch performance and support via email.

For $20, the Cloudflare Pro plan adds a Web Application Firewall to the free subscription, as well as automatic mobile optimization for your website, and enhanced image processing so you can deliver crisp media to your viewers without impacting your website’s performance.

The next stepping stone is the $200 Business subscription, which delivers 24/7 support via chat, PCI compliance, and 100% uptime SLA in addition to the previous tools. Other services, such as Argo Smart Routing or Load Balancing can be acquired separately on any plan and they have a flat fee.

There is also an Enterprise solution which further expands the services you get with the Business plan. However, you’ll have to contact them for a quote, since Cloudflare will scale its tools to match your infrastructure and needs.

Image Source: cloudflare.com

Is Cloudflare Worth It?

If you’re looking for a cost-effective solution that will optimize your page loading time, enhance its security, and keep you online even when your host experiences downtime, Cloudflare is definitely worth it. The pre-loader of its CDN pre-caches your most important web pages and delivers them to your visitors in 15 milliseconds or less.

Furthermore, Cloudflare gives you access to in-depth analytics regarding your page’s performance and traffic. If Google Analytics is not tracking your page properly, Cloudflare will notify you. Given the benefits of the paid plans, the specialized add-ons you have access to, as well as the straightforward set-up, anyone who owns a website (and businesses in particular) should seriously consider Cloudflare integration.