MetaCDN

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MetaCDN is an Australian company which combines the CDN networks of Amazon Cloudfront, Fastly and Verizon’s EdgeCast into a single service.

The package looks like any other CDN, and there’s no extra setup work involved. You sign up once, point MetaCDN at your files or origin server, and it’s ready to accelerate your site.

The differences are all in the detail. When a visitor requests your site or file, MetaCDN is able to choose from Cloudfront, Fastly and EdgeCast locations: more than 120 in total. It selects the fastest provider for any region, improving performance. And if one CDN or location goes down, MetaCDN simply routes your traffic elsewhere, enabling the service to guarantee a 100% uptime.

Features include origin pull (the CDN fetches files from your server when they’re first requested), origin push (they’re uploaded in advance), a quick purge that dumps cache objects with a click, and a REST API to automate tasks.

There are a few issues. MetaCDN can only support features of a CDN which are common to all three, for instance. Fastly provides some very powerful tools for working with HTTP headers, but you can’t apply those to Cloudfront so they’re not included here. You’re left with the core basics only.

It’s a similar story with reporting. Individual CDNs may have extra items they record or special ways of presenting data, but MetaCDN doesn’t support any of these. You get simple traffic information only.

Demanding users may be unhappy at the loss of low-level control, then, but everyone else will enjoy improved ease of use and (hopefully) much better performance. That just might be a trade-off worth taking.

Pricing

MetaCDN is available through three plans.

The ‘Basic’ plan is largely pointless as it doesn’t support multiple active CDN providers, which is likely to be the reason you’re looking at MetaCDN in the first place. It’s also quite expensive at $20 (£16) a month for up to 50GB data transfer.

The ‘Lite’ plan adds multiple CDNs, routes visitors to the fastest CDN for their area, supports secure shared SSL, and ups the bandwidth limit to 500GB. You can use it to accelerate up to three sites, and it’s yours for $50 (£40) a month.

The ‘Pro’ plan includes up to 1100GB of data for a maximum of six sites. There’s the option to use custom SSL, priority support, and it’s priced at $100 (£80).

Sounds simple, right? Wrong: these are just the minimum charges. Your bandwidth use is billed by data transfer at $0.10 per GB in North America and Europe, $0.14 everywhere else. There’s also a $0.01 charge per data request.

This doesn’t make it easy to understand what your final bill might be, but there’s some good news here, too. Unused credits don’t expire, they simply roll over to the next month, so your cash is never lost.

Also, if you run over your allocated data transfer there’s no overage penalty – you’re billed at the same rate.

Pay annually, rather than monthly, and there’s a reasonable 20% discount. That could make it cheaper than signing up for Cloudfront or Fastly individually, which seems like a good deal to us.

If you’re interested, a seven-day free trial enables testing the service before you buy.

Setup

Signing up for MetaCDN doesn’t require providing any payment details, which works for us. But our mood was spoiled a little when we were asked to hand over a mobile phone number, and verify it by providing a code sent by SMS. Even that only counts as a ‘free trial request’, and we had to wait nine hours for our account to be approved.

Eventually we were in, and looking at one of the simplest CDN consoles around. There’s no significant jargon, and just three main tabs – Home, Manage, Usage – along with a very obvious ‘Get started’ button.

Creating your first CDN resource requires entering your site domain (www.mydomain.com), a name, and optional CDN names (alternative domains) such as cdn.mydomain.com. Submit the form and your service is activated within 90 minutes. (Be patient: with three CDNs behind the scenes, there’s much more to do than usual.)

MetaCDN has tutorials for integrating the CDN with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento and PrestaShop. They’re basic and along the lines of the usual ‘install plugin x and set it up like this’, but there’s just about enough to be useful. If you’re curious, the WordPress guide is here.

A ‘Files’ feature enables uploading static files directly to the CDN. You can use third-party S3 tools like CyberDuck and S3Fox (documentation is here), or upload small numbers of files from a browser. Once the files are available, you can create another CDN resource which refers to your uploaded files, rather than the origin server.

Everything you’ve set up can be reviewed in the ‘Manage’ area. There’s not much to do beyond reviewing basic details and removing objects from the cache by URL, though. MetaCDN doesn’t provide any other settings or tweaks via the interface.

The support site has some guidance on how to carry out more advanced tasks, including setting HTTP headers. These all involve less-than-convenient manual tweaks to your web server or site code, but at least MetaCDN is making some effort to point you in the right direction.

Performance

It’s always difficult to understand how a CDN might perform for you, as there are so many issues to think about: the size and type of files, any web applications you’re using, the number, geographical spread and location of your visitors, and more. Change any variable and you could get a different result.

One simple option is to look at average CDN response time. A single figure can’t begin to tell you the whole story, but this is a useful starting point which gives you a basic idea of how fast a service might be.

As we write, CDNPerf rates Fastly as seventh out of 24 for worldwide response times, while EdgeCast is eighth and Cloudfront is 11th.

While these figures don’t sound exceptional, what really matters here is that each CDN does significantly better in individual regions. For example, Cloudfront is second in Europe and Africa, and sixth in Asia. EdgeCast is fourth in North America and Fastly rates first place in Oceania. By switching to the fastest CDN for any given location, you get consistently speedy performance worldwide.

As usual with CDNs, this won’t matter to everyone. If your visitors are mostly from Europe and North America, say, the response time in Melbourne isn’t important. But if you have a global audience, combining CDNs can improve speeds, and it’s certainly worth testing the service to find out what it can do for you.

Final verdict

MetaCDN could be a smart and speedy choice for high traffic sites with a worldwide audience. Beware the lack of features, though – you’ll need plenty of web expertise to do anything even faintly advanced.

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