Akamai dominates the Fortune 1000, and serves the majority of the Top Ranked Alexa websites in one capacity or another. CloudFlare is one of the leaders of the SMB (Small & Medium Businesses) sector, and serves a few Top Alexa Ranked websites. Akamai has corned the high-end market, and CloudFlare has corned the cost conscious SMB market. Akamai is Saks Fifth Avenue, and CloudFlare is the Walmart in the CDN ecosystem. Both serve a critical part in satisfying the needs of different customers.
- Akamai: 5000 customer and $1.57B annual revenue
- CloudFront: 1.7M customers and $100-$150M annual revenue (guesstimate)
(Update: Please review our recent analysis of Akamai and CloudFlare)
Akamai vs CloudFlare 2014
CloudFlare has done a great job in all facets of the CDN business, including growing its customer base, and creating powerful marketing buzz whenever it does something important, like fight a DDoS attack. On top of that, they made a great move in acquiring a pure-play security company. Akamai and CloudFlare are great American success stories, although CloudFlare has a few more years to go before it proves its business model is sustainable over the long run. With that being said, these two CDNs should never be bidding on the same piece of business. If they are bidding on the same business than someone isn’t doing their homework, and lots of cycles are being exhausted in the process.
Determining whether Akamai or CloudFlare is the right fit depends on the customer requirements, including type of content, budget, performance, feature set, and so on. Nowadays, many large companies are well educated on the strengths and weaknesses of CDN players, from experience they gained in using multiple CDNs over a period of time. For the companies that haven’t used a CDN, but are experiencing incredible growth over a short period of time, they have a more challenging job ahead of them.
Origins of CloudFlare
CloudFlare grew incredibly fast by operating on the freemium model when they first started. They worked with Godaddy, and many other hosting companies offering free CDN services. Then over time they converted some of the non-paying customers into paying customers. In addition, CloudFlare started targeting companies directly and winning. One area where CloudFlare has done well is in the content management system (CMS) ecosystem, working with platforms like WordPress. Some of the plugins I use on my website run on CloudFlare, and the delivery performance is top notch.
The CMS ecosystem is a huge market when one takes WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, and other platforms into consideration. CloudFlare plays well in that ecosystem. One area that CloudFlare doesn’t play well is video streaming. Another area such as the ecommerce segment, Akamai, EdgeCast, and Yottaa play well. Bottom line, each CDN is strong in one or few areas. What’s in store for CloudFlare’s future? That’s a difficult question to answer now as the changing CDN landscape has blurred somewhat over the last few months. Today, I don’t think there is a company out there that will acquire CloudFlare, as they are too expensive, and still figuring out their identity in the CDN ecosystem.
Nothing wrong with that, it usually takes a few years, and many changes before a CDN finds its true identity. Also, owning and operating a CDN is a tough gig even for a company like Google. At this point, the best option for CloudFlare is to go public. But before they do they will need to reach about $200M in revenue, and acquire a few more security companies along the way, because if Limelight Networks is any indication, CloudFlare must present itself to the market as a cloud security company in the same profile as Imperva, and not a CDN.