Super geek Chris Pirillo

Seattle super geek Chris Pirillo has a loyal following who love his offbeat musings on technology. But sometimes Pirillo’s network of sites, including LockerGnome.com, get overloaded with traffic. Faced with that challenge, Pirillo and his team have developed a new service called CDN in a Box that’s designed to handle huge traffic spikes and accelerate page loads to “Google-like speeds.”

“A CDN can save you money and, more importantly, it can speed up your Web site,” explained Pirillo in a recent video introduction of the service. Since implementing CDN in a Box at LockerGnome, page load times are now about four to six times faster than before. The service — which costs $500 to install for large content companies and 50 cents per Gigabyte delivered — does not require content creators to switch their Web hosting providers.

“We don’t move your infrastructure, we just get between it and the Internet,” explains LockerGnome’s Brandon Wirtz who worked with Pirillo to develop the new service.

Built on the back of Google App Engine, the content delivery network (CDN) is being used to handle traffic spikes at the Web site of Survivor host Jeff Probst. Officially launched on May 10th, the service is designed for “serious bloggers only and serious content creators only,” said Pirillo.

Wirtz said most Web sites follow the “80/20 rule,” which means that 80 percent of traffic comes from 20 percent of pages.

On big days — say The Huffington Post, The New York Times link or Hacker News links to your site — Wirtz said one page can drive nearly all of the traffic.

“We take that load off of you, by caching content in the cloud,” Wirtz said. “We serve 90+ percent of your requests so your CMS doesn’t get overwhelmed.”

There are other cloud-based content delivery networks on the market, including MaxCDN and Amazon.com’s Web Services. Wirtz said that Amazon’s S3 operates as a traditional CDN, and its speeds are comparable to CDN in a Box.

“…Sometimes we are faster, sometimes they are faster, but we don’t require as much know how to set up, and if you are running a CMS you built, or a CMS we support, the integration can be minutes rather than hours or days,” Wirtz says.

The upstart makes a more direct attack on Amazon.com in its FAQ, noting that in case “you missed it they were down for nearly 3 days straight recently.” Ouch.

In terms of MaxCDN, Wirtz said it primarily caches images and videos in the cloud. And, based on his experience at LockerGnome, it just didn’t perform well.

“In our limited experience it took 60 percent of the load off of the image portion of our site, and the load it created in “optimizing” our pages to serve the JS and CSS elements made it a net loss,” Wirtz said.

Here’s Pirillo introducing CDN in a Box in his prototypical energetic and nerdy way:


John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

Comments

  • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

     *whew* I was half-expecting trolls in the comments thread. :) 

    • Matthew Prince

      I’m the CEO of CloudFlare. Just had a user forward us this post who asked my opinion. I think it’s great more people are getting into the performance game, and I’ve personally been a big fan of Chris since his TechTV glory days. For those who aren’t aware, CloudFlare (www.cloudflare.com) is bringing performance and security technology to the masses, including our own CDN, and we’re doing it at a stunningly affordable price.

      Our team hasn’t kicked the tires of CDN in a Box yet, but from this article and the little information on their site I’m surprised by some of the choices they’ve made and would love to understand them more. The Google AppEngine architecture is actually notoriously fickle in terms of its performance, so it’s a surprising choice to me. We see a lot of web services running on a lot of different cloud providers. In terms of cloud providers, CloudFlare is able to deliver about a 75% performance boost over anything served off Google AppEngine (more than Amazon, where we get about a 65% performance boost, and RackSpace’s Cloud, where we get about a 55% performance boost).
      I’d also be curious what kind of tricks they’re doing for geographic load balancing. I am pinging sites on their service from multiple probes we have around the Internet and keep getting the same data center in the bay area. If they’re serving everything from a single location, that’s hardly a CDN — it’s a single homed hosting provider. I’m also not getting very good ping times from that location, even though I’m sitting in San Francisco right now (over 100ms to their data center versus 23ms to the San Jose CloudFlare POP, 29ms to the nearest MaxCDN POP, and 20ms to the nearest Akamai POP). When I check from further flung probes I’m getting even worse times. Performance, for example, from India or China is over 500ms in just network latency. Ugly.Incidentally, at CloudFlare we run geographically load balanced data centers (we call them “POPs”) in Hong Kong, Tokyo, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, DC, and Amsterdam. We’re actually turning up two new POPs tomorrow in Paris and Dallas and will be adding Miami, Singapore, Frankfurt, and London over the coming weeks. We’ll continue to expand our network so, worldwide, everyone gets the fastest possible experience.Returning to CDN in a Box, it’s really hard to build a platform on someone else’s platform. That’s why we’ve build CloudFlare’s infrastructure from the ground up. That means we use hardware that is custom built to power a lot of network traffic. I know people on the Google AppEngine team pretty well. They have a great service, but the hardware used for it is general purpose and not tuned for the particular need. For example, a well designed CDN has a huge number of random reads and writes. The Google AppEngine servers use spinning media drives in a low density. You end up getting killed by drive I/O as soon as you hit any kind of scale. At CloudFlare, we only use SSDs to power our edge node caches so disk I/O screams, and we even intelligently move the most requested files into memory to make accessing them even faster.Beyond the hardware, we also control all the relationships with our upstream providers to ensure correct routing and security mitigation. When big DDoS attacks come — and they inevitably do — we’re able to talk directly to our upstream providers and mitigate the issue. It’s hard to do that when you’re having to relay your request through a middleman.
      Like some of the commenters below, I’m really surprised by the CDN in a Box pricing. It’s significantly higher than real CDNs that own and control their own infrastructure. If you want a traditional player, Amazon or MaxCDN would be good budget choices, but for the CDN in a Box monthly minimum of $500/month you could get someone on the phone from some of the fairly big guys too. I’ve always been stunned, knowing what wholesale bandwidth costs, that a provider like Amazon can get away with 15 cents a GB, so 50 cents a GB is a hefty margin. I’m not sure how they’re justifying that pricing when it’s not their own infrastructure and, therefore, it’s difficult to fully control and respond to problems that arise.
      It’s also not clear to me how they’re supporting SSL. SSL is a very a tricky problem for a cloud provider. It took us several months of developing technology and negotiating with certificate authorities to make it work seamlessly. For small sites, it may not be a big deal if they can’t support SSL in a globally distributed, performant fashion. But anyone running a site with a budget of $6,000/year for what appears to be essentially consultants to help them sign up for Google AppEngine probably will have SSL on their site and will want it to work right.

      At CloudFlare, we’re trying to disrupt CDN pricing and bring this technology to everyone regardless of their ability to pay for it. We have sites on the system that range from individual blogs to Fortune500 companies. Sites that get one visitor a month to well over one million. In total, we currently power more than 3 billion page views per month for our users. We don’t charge by the number of bytes you run through us because we’ve been able to directly negotiate very low bandwidth pricing ourselves by going straight to the providers. Plus when when your site gets listed on Daringfireball or Slashdot or the cover of Hackernews or wherever for it to be purely happy moment, not one where you’re going to dread the coming bandwidth bill.

      We’ll kick the tires of CDN in a Box over the next few weeks and see if we can see if there’s any secret sauce that isn’t immediately apparent. In the meantime, I’d love to hear more from the CDN in a Box team about the choices they made and why they made them. They’re clearly smart guys, so I’m sure they’ve thought through much of this.

      Cheers,
      Matthew.

      • http://www.jakeludington.com Jake Ludington

        Matthew, since you have experience with AppEngine, you seem to have answered your own question about CDN In A Box points of presense. AppEngine has many of them, as you know. The fact that you are hitting the one closest to your geographic location makes sense, serving your request from further away would be pointless.

      • http://www.blackwaterops.com Brandon Wirtz

        Really? You think I’m running on 1 server? Did you notice that that one IP is Google’s IP? 

        Every technical detail in this post is wrong.  Next time put your CTO on the thread instead of your CEO.

  • Guest

    50 cents per GB? Holy crickey.. CloudFlare.com is a far better deal and offers more value. 

    • http://www.blackwaterops.com Brandon Wirtz

      CloudFlare is like DreamHost or BlueHost or HostGator, Unlimited is not even close to “unlimited”. It is “unmetered” you can’t server 100TB a month for $9 or $20. (or $100)

      But also not all quotas are created equal. Prime Rib at Denny’s is not Prime Rib at Morton’s, which is why Denny’s is $9 and Morton’s is $75.

      How do they offer “more value”.  CDN In A Box moves you to Google Infrastructure, speeds up your site, and does so in minutes. 

      If you need “proof” in the “pudding” or the “putting” use http://www.pingdom.com and compare the page load speed of CloudFlare.com to http://www.cdninabox.com they take 11 seconds to load.  CDN In A Box takes 180-220 milliseconds.  That is 50x faster.

      You can argue value lots of different ways, but if your car goes 0-60 in 11 seconds, and mine does it in .2 seconds, I got a lot of “value”.

      • Matthew Prince

        Congrats on the launch of your new service! Great to see people taking web performance seriously. It’s all of us against the apps!

        A few quick things:

        1. On CloudFlare, unlimited means unlimited. Philosophically, we’re opposed to nickel and diming people over bandwidth.
        2. I’m personally a big fan of Denny’s, but we’re actually building something that’s first class quality at a revolutionary price. Our team hails from Google, Yahoo, Netflix, Prolexic, Bitgravity, Akamai, etc. — folks who know how to build networks from the ground up and were sick of seeing people getting nickeled and dimed on bandwidth.
        3. Yes, our great embarrassment is that CloudFlare.com doesn’t run on CloudFlare’s network. There’s a good rationale, however. We want to make sure if ever there’s a problem customers can still get in touch with us.

        Happy to chat sometime if you’re interested. Give us a call in the office: 650.319.8930. Can clear up any other confusion about CloudFlare.

        PS – Why the knock on Dreamhost? They’re obviously good enough for you since they’re who you’re using for the origin of cdninabox.com. Sometimes Denny’s prime rib tastes pretty good! ;-)

        cdninabox.com. 1800 IN A 173.236.210.120

        NetRange:       173.236.128.0 – 173.236.255.255CIDR:           173.236.128.0/17OriginAS:       AS26347NetName:        DREAMHOST-BLK10

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5BOXPUQPYYVFE5U55O67UUZHK4 Billy

          Brandon = p0wned. Ouch.

        • http://www.jakeludington.com Jake Ludington

          If you won’t dog food your own solution, how do you convince other people to use it? For me that’s the end of the discussion.

          One of the key strengths of CDN In A Box is being able to take content originating anywhere and make it scalable. As you point out the files for cdninabox.com originate on Dreamhost, which is a great low traffic website hosting solution, but Dreamhost doesn’t serve pages fast and it can’t scale when you get popular on Daring Fireball or Hacker News. CDN In A Box can take a $5/month hosting provider and make them more robust than your DIY cloud. 

          • http://twitter.com/ARub1 Adam

            “If you won’t dog food your own solution, how do you convince other people to use it? For me that’s the end of the discussion.”

            Because it’s a really bad idea. What if something happens to the network and clients can’t reach their sites?

            MOST hosts will not host their own website on their servers or in the same region/DC their clients are in. It’s a common concept.

            “As you point out the files for cdninabox.com originate on Dreamhost, which is a great low traffic website hosting solution, but Dreamhost doesn’t serve pages fast and it can’t scale when you get popular on Daring Fireball or Hacker News. CDN In A Box can take a $5/month hosting provider and make them more robust than your DIY cloud.”

            That’s what CloudFlare does.

        • http://www.blackwaterops.com Brandon Wirtz

          I wasn’t knocking DreamHost, many of my best customers are DreamHost customers, and it is often my sandbox.  But their unlimited isn’t.

          If CloudFlare is unlimited, I would like to talk to you, I have a customer that requires 100 Gigabits sustained. (Valley’s at 75 and bursting to 125) your $20 plan would save them about $100k a month.

          Maybe rather than your current host you should host Cloud Flare on CDN In A Box we could trade hosting for the customer I described above.

          As to what we would do if Google was down, and still wanted our site to be up.  We’d change a DNS record and be on Dream Host, or Liquid Web, or RackSpace Cloud.

          Very shortly CDN in A Box will run on Azure, Amazon, and possibly even Rack Space Cloud. So that when the world ends, we can just change DNS and keep going.  

          • http://twitter.com/ARub1 Adam

            Matthew can answer this more better than I can, but they do host some very large website. I’m sure they could accommodate this customer with a custom plan at a very affordable price.

          • http://www.blackwaterops.com Brandon Wirtz

            If it is a custom plan it’s not an unlimited plan. You can’t offer a $20 unlimited plan on your site, then when I say “great I’ll take it” respond that you need to build me a quote.

            We have two pricing tiers. That’s it.  You don’t have to call for a quote, you need only to call to ask questions, and feel warm and fuzzy that we are smart people who can do what we say.

            As far as I know we are the only CDN service that has a solution where you could be running with us, take your site off line, move the servers to another location, and when you came back online, we’d just pick up where you left off. Or if you needed to know that there was a backup of the content of every page on your site that was accessed in the last 90 days it would be their if you were hacked, hit by a meteor, or abducted by  aliens.

          • http://www.blackwaterops.com Brandon Wirtz

            If it is a custom plan it’s not an unlimited plan. You can’t offer a $20 unlimited plan on your site, then when I say “great I’ll take it” respond that you need to build me a quote.

            We have two pricing tiers. That’s it.  You don’t have to call for a quote, you need only to call to ask questions, and feel warm and fuzzy that we are smart people who can do what we say.

            As far as I know we are the only CDN service that has a solution where you could be running with us, take your site off line, move the servers to another location, and when you came back online, we’d just pick up where you left off. Or if you needed to know that there was a backup of the content of every page on your site that was accessed in the last 90 days it would be their if you were hacked, hit by a meteor, or abducted by  aliens.

  • http://twitter.com/evanjacobs Evan Jacobs

    There is so much misinformation in the statements in the article as well as on the CDN in a Box site that it should give anyone pause before choosing to use this service.

    Amazon’s CDN service is Cloudfront, not S3. It was Amazon’s EBS service that had problems earlier this month, not Cloudfront. Talking about “scaling time” of a CDN is nonsensical and comparisons to EC2 (a computing resource) are completely misleading.

    Finally ,the pricing for CDN in a Box is between 3x and 17x more expensive than Amazon (depending on volume) as listed here: http://aws.amazon.com/cloudfront/#pricing

    • http://www.jakeludington.com Jake Ludington

      You can’t directly compare CDN In A Box to Amazon CloudFront. On speed of content delivery, there’s a direct point of comparison. On the ability to serve entire pages (not just static assets) from the edge, there’s no comparison with CloudFront, because CloudFront can’t currently serve a dynamically generated page. So with CloudFront, you are paying for content delivery, with CDN In A Box, you are paying for content delivery and the underlying software that allows your pages near infinite scaling.

  • David

    “Doesn’t my Web host already do this? We’ll answer this when we stop laughing”

    Sounds pretty arrogant to me, and your pricing structure is just silly. You’re kidding yourselves if you really think you can win over customers through smug arrogance and unreliable claims.

    Will be sticking with Cloudflare, thanks.

    • http://www.blackwaterops.com Brandon Wirtz

      Compared to Cloudflare that trolls news articles and launches a campaign to make nasty comments?

      What makes this even sillier.  We don’t view Cloudflare as competition.  Our customers are looking to spend $200-$15k a month on hosting.  

      Yes we are smug, yes we are arrogant.  But we did the work to get there.  Our largest clients have hit over 27 gigabits per second of sustained bandwidth. And unlike most CDNs as that happens their site got faster, not slower.

      With over 150 domains having made the move to CDN in a Box in the first two weeks, and inquiries from over 15k who are doing feasibility testing, our pricing seems to make sense to a lot of people.

      Some of them are looking to get hosting for only a single day.  We are very upfront about what you get, and how much it will cost.  No one else in the space does that.  You have to call find out how much hosting you really need, and what the actual price will be.

      The few people who thought they could do this themselves on Google App Engine have found out they can’t because the variability in pricing can be hard when a service provider charges different amounts for different parts of the service.

      Finally, if Cloud Flare wants to keep smearing us. Ask them this:

      Can you accelerate Dynamic content? 
      Can you serve content that requires a Post Request Rather than a Get Request?
      What is the largest amount of traffic you have had a client sustain for 1 hour?
      What was the QoS on that traffic?

      For us,
      Yes,
      Yes,
      27 Gigabits averaged over 1 hour with a 89 gigabit burst lasting 7 seconds
      all requests were served in under 600ms with an average time per request of 288ms.

      We don’t need to get in to a pissing contest, we don’t put fires out with piss, we bring a fleet of fire hoses.

      • Guest

        Wow. 27 Gbps for an hour. At your pricing they paid you $49,000. That was a helluva expensive hour.  

      • Guest

        I can see why CloudFlare didn’t respond to you. It’s not even worth it. You have no right to be arrogant. They have done their work diligently too, you know. And for ever number you have here, I can bet you they have better numbers.

        For one, they have been in operation for only 9 months or so and the sites using them are pushing 4 billion page views per month.

        I’m not sure what they answers to the other questions are, but they do accelerate dynamic content.

        A side note, over 1,000 domains were put on CloudFlare YESTERDAY.

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