It may be a small CDN, but the CDNlion website makes some big claims, suggesting the company offers “unlimited performance and coverage” for the “industry’s lowest price”.
CDNlion certainly has one of the largest networks we’ve seen: 124 locations in total including 39 in North America, 53 in Europe, 23 in Asia, six in Oceania, two in South America and one in Africa. That doesn’t guarantee great performance – the company is powered by OnApp CDN, which isn’t noted for top speeds – but it doesn’t hurt, either.
The CDN supports origin pull (content is grabbed from your server when first requested) and origin push (content is automatically uploaded to the CDN when it’s added to the server, or updated). You’re able to create separate CDN zones for as many websites as you need, and shared SSL covers all your content for free.
Once you’re set up, CDNlion offers load balancing to optimize performance. Auto-failover ensures your content is served even during hardware failure, and DDoS protection shields you from attackers.
CDNlion pricing is based on the amount of data you go through. This varies between regions, starting at a reasonable $49 (£39) per terabyte for North America and Europe ($0.0049 per GB), ranging up to $119 (£95) in Asia, $199 (£160) in Australia and an eye-watering $699 (£559) in Africa.
The company offers access to “more exclusive locations for better load time” at extra cost: $69 (£55) per terabyte in North America and Europe, $199 (£160) in Asia. It’s good to have options, although this also indicates the regular servers aren’t going to give you the best performance.
The good news here is there are no extra charges for requests or using HTTPS rather than HTTP.
The not-so-good news is there’s a minimum payment of $39 (£31). At least your credits never expire, and you only have to pay again when your balance is running low.
A very limited free trial gives you 7 days and 20GB of data to sample the service. That’s not going to allow serious performance testing, but it’s enough to help you understand how the service works and the options available.
To access the CDNlion trial you must first create a user account. There are no great surprises here and you don’t have to provide too many details: just your name, email address and country. Submit the form, confirm your email address and you’re taken directly to the CDNlion console.
The website opens at the ‘Add a new Resource’ screen where you’re able to choose from three CDN types: HTTP, Video on Demand or Video Streaming.
We opted for HTTP and were prompted to enter our origin (www.mydomain.com) and preferred CDN domain (cdn.mydomain.com).
There’s an ‘Enable SSL’ feature, but this only supports shared SSL using the r.worldssl.net domain – the site doesn’t offer a custom SSL option.
We created our CDN and headed off to the Settings dialog, where we were hoping to find more advanced tweaks. Unfortunately, there were only four new settings available, which is poor even by the standards of OnApp-powered CDNs.
Cache Expiry Time enables setting the length of time files are stored in the cache before checking for updates. Disable Indexing blocks search engine bots from accessing the site. Hotlink Policy can prevent unauthorized sites linking to your content.
Finally, there’s the clumsily-named ‘Not Ignore Set Cookie’. Was the double negative a mistake, we wondered? Apparently not: checking that setting will cache cookies, clearing it ignores them.
We explored the rest of the console in a desperate search for something exciting – but unfortunately had no luck in that quest. Simple prefetching enables preloading the CDN with files so they’re ready for the first user request, and purging deletes specified files or the entire cache. A small Statistics page gives you basic feedback on your traffic – and that’s about it.
Checking the Support site confirmed the lack of functionality, with short and very limited articles on setting up the basics, and a few brief pieces on integrating the service with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, PrestaShop and cPanel. Even these were presented in a simple ‘do this, do that’ form, with no real depth.
This kind of stripped-back service might not be an issue for everyone. If you only need the CDN basics – accelerating a simple WordPress site, maybe – CDNlion will get the job done. But if you want to use custom SSL, redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS, choose how query strings are handled, control compression, play with headers or do anything faintly advanced, the service is going to be a huge disappointment.
Comparing CDN speeds in any meaningful way is extremely difficult as there are so many issues to consider: the web applications you’re running, the size of files you’re caching, how often they’re updated, the location and spread of your visitors. A service that works well for a European blog might not deliver at all for an Indian download site or an American video streaming service.
The best option is to forget the complexities and concentrate on a simple metric: HTTP request query time. It’s only one figure, but it’s a good basis for comparison, and Cedexis gives easy access to the results for multiple CDNs based on billions of real user tests.
CDNlion uses OnApp CDN rather than its own servers, so doesn’t appear in the Cedexis data. We decided to look at OnApp CDN performance instead, and compare it alongside three other services: Cloudflare ranked second in the speed rankings during our tests, Cloudfront was 10th, and Leaseweb was 20th.
OnApp’s results were poor in North America and Europe, with the service clearly behind our other test services. But OnApp’s number of locations made a real difference in other parts of the world, and it hit first place in Asia, and second in Oceania, Africa and South America.
Keep in mind that these figures relate to the full OnApp network. CDNlion only uses a small proportion of these servers, and charges a premium price for the best locations, so its regular accounts won’t see this level of speed increase. Still, there’s obvious potential here, and if your website audience is outside of Europe and North America, CDNlion may be able to deliver decent performance.
Horribly basic, short on configuration options and overpriced for an OnApp service, CDNlion won’t appeal to most people. Beginners will get more from a free Cloudflare account, and KeyCDN offers much more power for a lower cost.