Founded in 2001, FDC Servers is a popular provider of budget network solutions, including dedicated servers, private cloud, virtualization and hosting products.
The company also offers a simple CDN based on its own small network, comprising of just 13 locations spread across North America and Europe.
The feature set is mostly about the basics. There’s support for accelerating HTTP, video on demand and live streaming resources. You can use shared SSL or custom SNI SSL certificates, and access control features to enable allowing or blocking requests by country, referrer (hotlink protection), IP address and more.
The service supports pseudo streaming for MP4 or FLV videos, allowing viewers to skip forward in a video which hasn’t fully downloaded yet. (You’ll need a Flash player and a video prepared for pseudo streaming.)
A scattering of switches can enable (or disable) caching cookie requests, blocking search engine crawlers or using HTTP Live Streaming Optimization to improve media playback.
CDN management options include prefetching large files to ensure they’re in the cache for the first request. You’re able to purge the cache of specific items, or clear it entirely, and experts can build custom HTTP caching rules to define exactly which resources are cached.
FDC Servers has a simple flat rate pricing scheme which starts at just $5 (£4) per TB per month, or $0.005 per GB. That’s not a misprint: even value CDN providers are 10 to 20 times as expensive.
There are no other charges. No variations between regions, no extra bill for requests, no premium for using HTTPS over HTTP – it’s just a straightforward flat rate.
The company doesn’t hit you with a chunky minimum charge, either. You must purchase bandwidth in 1TB units, but at these prices that means a minimum payment of just $5 (£4).
FDC Servers doesn’t even set up an automatically renewing subscription. You’re able to do that, and if you’re using a CDN for any serious purpose it might be wise (you don’t want it turning off unexpectedly), but it won’t happen unless you set it up.
The FDC Servers signup process seems straightforward, at least initially. Choose a plan, select the number of terabytes of traffic you need, hit the Buy button and you’re directed to the payment page
The company demands more personal data than some, including your name, company name, physical address and even phone number. But that’s okay – isn’t it?
Maybe not. After we’d paid our money by PayPal, the site told us we must authenticate our account by phone. This involved calling a US phone number, choosing the sales department and leaving a voicemail quoting our order number.
That seemed like an unnecessary hassle and expense to us, but there was another issue, too. The web page told us our order number was ‘null’, which is usually developer-speak for “something is broken in the code or backend system”. Whatever the cause, there was nothing for us to quote.
So far FDC Servers wasn’t inspiring us with confidence. Still, every company can have problems from time to time, and at least this gave us a chance to test out its support. We emailed the contact email address on our PayPal invoice, politely pointed out that they’d taken our money but not given us anything, and waited to see what would happen.
Less than 20 minutes later a reply arrived, stating they’d moved the ticket to ‘Sales/Billing’ as that would get us a reply within 24 hours on weekdays, 48 hours at the weekend. That wasn’t reassuring, either, but we were worrying too soon. Within two minutes a cluster of new emails arrived giving us our order number, login information and more.
One of these emails repeated the demand that we call a US phone number to authenticate our account. But when we used the login details in our email, this turned out not to be necessary after all. Maybe we’d bypassed that step by getting the support team’s help to set up our account? It’s unclear, but be prepared for some signup hassles.
FDC Servers’ web control panel seems poorly designed, opening with a vast amount of entirely wasted white space, and a small left-hand sidebar with a few key links: CDN Resources, SSL Certificates, CDN Usage, and Users and Groups.
Tap the CDN Resources link and a wizard walks you through the setup basics. This doesn’t have to involve much work. At a minimum you only have to choose the resource type (HTTP, video on demand, live streaming), define a CDN hostname and origin.
The system isn’t nearly as configurable as most other CDNs, but there are some options to explore. Simple settings allow blocking bots with a click, URL signing helps create secure links for authorized users only, and real experts even get access to a few low-level NGINX settings (limit rate, proxy read timeout, proxy connect timeout, proxy cache key).
Reports cover bandwidth and receiving statistics. They’re not as comprehensive or pretty as some of the competition, but what you do get with FDC Servers is raw log access via FTP, SFTP or SYSLOG.
While experienced users will find their way around most of this without much difficulty, there’s virtually no local documentation to help you understand how it works or to troubleshoot problems. The interface displays a few words on some functions, but not enough detail to be useful. The FDC Servers website has no CDN knowledgebase that we could see, and there’s no speedy live chat support to get instant help in emergencies.
This isn’t quite as bad as it seems. FDC Servers uses a standard CDN software stack called OnApp, and if you go to the OnApp support site you’ll find a generic user manual. The FDC Servers version is fractionally different, but there’s nothing to cause major confusion, and after exploring the manual the system should make much more sense.
Go CDN shopping and you’ll want to know what sort of performance boost a service can deliver. This certainly makes sense to us: the speed gain is probably the reason you’re looking to use a CDN in the first place.
However, there are issues here, and the first problem is it’s difficult to measure CDN performance in any meaningful way, as there are so many factors to consider. A product that delivers for a small WordPress site with an Asian audience might not work at all for a huge US video streaming service, or a European software downloads site – it all depends on what you want to do.
You could check a simple metric like CDN response time at CDNPerf, but that’s where the second problem appears – FDC Servers isn’t a big enough service to appear on the list.
If we’re just looking at general indicators, they suggest performance isn’t going to be great. FDC Servers isn’t a specialist CDN provider. There’s no special technology to improve speeds, no public user community to provide feedback. The website doesn’t inspire much confidence, either. We were encouraged to see a page which enabled running speed tests, pings and other checks on individual servers, for instance. But when we tried a few pings from different locations, the status window simply displayed: ‘An error occurred.’
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should ignore the company. In fact, they’re so very cheap that you might want to try them regardless. Just keep your expectations low, and don’t be surprised if you still end up disappointed.
FDC Servers CDN is short on features and the support is horribly basic, but it’s also astonishingly cheap. Try it if you know what you’re doing, are on a budget, only need a basic CDN and don’t mind gambling $5 (£4). Everyone else should walk away.