If you're uncomfortable buying a critical business service like a CDN (opens in new tab) from a tiny provider you've never heard about before, then Akamai (opens in new tab) makes a very appealing alternative. With more than 20 years in the cybersecurity business, 8,000+ employees, a customer base covering 56% of the Fortune 500 and a $3.2 billion turnover, there are plenty of reasons to be confident that the company delivers what it promises.
Akamai's network certainly dwarfs most of the competition, with 325,000 servers across more than 135 countries. That covers both media and storage, so if you're only looking to store files on edge servers then you'll have less coverage, but the company still outdoes almost anyone else. (There's solid evidence for that in its performance results, but more on those, later.)
- Want to try out Akamai CDN? Check out the website here (opens in new tab)
As you'd expect for an enterprise-level CDN, there's also plenty of high-end functionality here. Although the core of the service works like most competitors, a host of low-level APIs allow you to customize it to suit your needs.
This isn't exactly a CDN for beginners, then, but Akamai does at least do a lot to help. Non-customers can browse the documentation (opens in new tab) to get a feel for what's possible, and if you do sign up, there's 24/7 live chat support to walk you through any issues.
Normally we provide an outline of a CDN's prices in a review, allowing you to compare them to the competition. Unfortunately, Akamai doesn't work that way. There's no pricing page and you can't sign up online: your only option is to contact the company and ask for a quote.
You can get a general idea of prices from Dacast (opens in new tab), which provides a video streaming platform powered by Akamai's network. Plans start at $39 a month (billed annually) for 50GB of storage and 1.2TB of traffic a year, rising to $188 for 1TB storage and 24TB of traffic, roughly in the area we'd expect from a top CDN.
Customer satisfaction is another indicator of whether a provider offers value for money. We don't put much weight on user reviews, but it's interesting to see Akamai scores very well in most areas. Gartner's Peer Insights shows a 4.8/ 5 rating from 213 reviews, for instance, compared to (for instance) 4.5 for Amazon CloudFront (opens in new tab).
Akamai's abilities start with the CDN basics. This begins with some relatively simple DNS (opens in new tab) tweaks which route incoming requests from visitors to Akamai's edge servers, for example pointing www.mysite.com to www.mysite.com.akamaized.net. Your visitor is then redirected to their nearest Akamai server, which decides what to do next.
A more basic CDN might just serve up some static content, and nothing more, but Akamai is far more flexible. Expert users can set up complex rules to define which content is served, how and from where, giving them full control over the service.
Comprehensive purge tools enable removing old content by Time To Live expiry dates, URL, cache tags, keys, wildcards and more. That allows you to update dynamic content frequently, but keep relatively static content - PDFs, say - on the edge servers for a long time, reducing the load on your origin servers.
Security features include DDoS protection (opens in new tab) to keep your servers safe from attack, while a Web Application Firewall intelligently monitors access to your content to block bots, hackers and more.
Video and image manager
A good CDN doesn't just store and serve up the same canned copy of your website. It adapts it to suit the viewer, their device and network conditions.
Akamai CDN delivers on this with a powerful media processor. It automatically reduces the size of your page by optimizing formats and compression levels, delivering an extra speed boost all on its own, with no extra requirements for you.
This goes way beyond just manually reducing the quality of JPEGs, too. An automated 'perceptual quality algorithm' automatically figures out the appropriate quality levels, so you don't have to. And the video processing is so powerful it might justify using Akamai CDN all on its own. Just upload a source video and the service automatically serves content with the optimum format, resolution and bitrate for the user's device.
There's one potentially significant video processing description in its 5-minute limit, but that's still a very major plus for the service. If it sounds like it could be important for you, browse Akamai's Developer site (opens in new tab) for in-depth information on what you get, and how it works.
As we write, Akamai CDN ranks sixth out of 21 contenders at CDNPerf.com (opens in new tab) with an average worldwide query speed of 26.34 seconds. That's a capable performance, only marginally behind the speed leaders 5centsCDN (opens in new tab) (24.15ms), Google Cloud CDN (opens in new tab) (24.51ms) and Limelight CDN (24.63ms.)
CDNPerf's summary figures are all about worldwide performance, and drilling down to speeds per continent gives a slightly different picture.
Akamai scored an excellent first place in Asia with an average query speed of 27.27ms. That's important because it's significantly faster than many big names. Azure CDN (opens in new tab) has average Asia query times that were more than twice as long at 56.24ms, for instance, while Cloudflare's were a lengthy 98.1ms.
Akamai topped the list in Oceania, too, its 22.51ms average query trampling all over the competition (even the second placed ArvanCloud managed only 31.78ms.)
Performance elsewhere was fairly consistent, with Akamai's scores ranging from sixth place in South America, to 10th in Africa.
Whatever you think of these figures, keep in mind they're based on raw response times only. They don't take full account of optimizations such as Akamai's image and video manager, which could make a huge difference to website speeds all on their own.
Overall, Akamai looks like a speed leader for Asia and Oceania-focused sites, but it's also a good all-rounder which delivers solid results wherever your audience are located.
Akamai's lengthy feature list means it's overkill for many users, but if you've a demanding application, its power, speed and configurability make the service a must-see.
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