StackPath

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StackPath is an interesting new web services company founded by Lance Crosby, the co-founder and former CEO of SoftLayer.

In the past year StackPath has acquired MaxCDN, Highwinds, Cloak (a VPN service), and the web security companies Fireblade and Staminus, and it has now brought some of these technologies together in its own CDN offering.

StackPath’s network is focused on Western locations, with 10 PoPs (points of presence) in North America and seven in Europe. These are joined by three in Asia (Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore), as well as Sydney and Sao Paolo. Bandwidth is charged at the same rate for all locations.

PoPs are optimised for speed with SSD storage, 100 Gbps connectivity, and intelligent best-path routing to deliver the smoothest possible data flow. Every PoP connects to 4x Tier-1 carriers, giving complete redundancy, and throughput scales up to an eye-watering 96Tbps. StackPath also supports HTTP/2 to further improve content flow.

Security features include free shared SSL, an option to use your own SSL certificate, DDoS mitigation and a very capable Web Application Firewall. 

The service is managed from a straightforward web console. There’s plenty of documentation available, and 24/7 support included via chat and phone. The company claims an average chat response time of one minute. Too good to be true? Maybe not: we only checked the service a couple of times, but an agent responded in under a minute each time.

Pricing

StackPath has a relatively simple pricing scheme with just five standard plans.

The baseline scheme charges $20 (£16) for up to 200GB data transfer, and up to five websites. If you run over the 200GB limit you’re charged a reasonable $0.06 per extra GB, and that’s essentially it. There are no extra charges for requests, and bandwidth is charged at the same rate for every location: it’s all very straightforward.

Upgrading to one of the higher bandwidth accounts can get you substantial discounts. The 2000GB plan costs only $100 (£80) a month, halving the per GB price of the starter plan. Extra bandwidth is charged at only $0.04 per GB, and there’s support for up to 50 sites.

The 2000GB and higher plans also have another benefit in a dedicated Technical Account Manager, but there are no other extras we could see. All the key service benefits are available to everyone, even on the budget account.

If you’re not sure whether the service is right for you, that’s no problem either – a 15-day trial gives you plenty of time to find out for yourself.

Setup

Setting up a StackPath account requires a vast amount of personal information: name, company, email address, physical address and phone number. You’re even prompted for a mobile phone number and company VAT ID, though fortunately they’re optional.

Payment options are credit card or PayPal. You must enter your details during signup, but you’re not charged until the 15-day trial period is up. Cancel before that and there’s nothing to pay.

StackPath’s opening control panel is one of the simplest around. There’s no technical jargon, at least initially: no talk of “zones” or “distributions”. Just a small sidebar with straightforward links such as Reports and Account, and a large button labelled Create New Site.

Tapping the create button gives you two options. You can use the CDN to manage specific files, as usual. There’s also the ability to run your entire site through the CDN, allowing you to protect it with StackPath’s Web Application Firewall.

Both options are easy to implement. At a minimum you can simply enter your source URL and a name for the site. StackPath takes care of everything else.

If you’d like more control, a Settings panel gives you some useful tools. There’s a box to set an alternative domain name (a CNAME record), a more SEO-friendly way to set up the site. You’re able to manage the cache, purging files or clearing it entirely. Performance tweaks include GZip compression and the ability to ignore cookies in requests. 

Okay, this can’t match the extreme configurability of services like CloudFront. It’s vastly easier to use, though, and there are more advanced tools tucked away. 

EdgeRules are simple scripts which can play around with traffic, for example forcing the use of HTTPS connections, blocking or redirecting a request by country or referrer, redirecting bots from the CDN to your origin, hiding headers to cut bandwidth requirements and more. You can extend these with custom EdgeRules of your own, or explore the API for more complex automation and management tasks.

Performance

Assessing CDN performance can be very difficult. Speeds vary considerably depending on location, and a service that is only average in Europe or the US might be a leader in Asia. The best approach is to check your website logs to find out where your visitors come from, and find a CDN which delivers good results for those locations.

CDNPerf is normally a good place to start looking, as it provides a simple view of Cedexis’ user monitoring data covering billions of CDN tests. Unfortunately, StackPath isn’t included in the current platform list.

What we can do is look at MaxCDN, the technology of which has been used as a basis for the StackPath product. The network isn’t exactly the same and StackPath has further optimisations and many more features, but it’s the closest comparison we can get.

In July 2017 MaxCDN achieved first place out of 24 contenders for response times to US connections, according to CDNPerf. It did almost as well in the UK, reaching an equal first place with Fastly, Level3 and Tata (Bitgravity).

The results aren’t nearly as impressive when you look at continent-wide speeds, presumably due to its relatively small network. MaxCDN was sixth in North America, 17th in Europe and 20th in Asia.

StackPath isn’t identical to MaxCDN and there could be many performance differences, but its network is similar and we suspect the basic story will be the same: great performance in the US, the UK and parts of Europe, but tailing off as you move further away.

Final verdict

We would like more locations, but StackPath is easy to set up and manage, with quality reporting and an excellent Web Application Firewall. There’s plenty to like here for CDN newcomers and experts alike.

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