Why I Dropped CloudFlare.

I’m always looking out for ways to improve my blog behind the scenes mostly because I’ve noticed that a lot more people visit when the page doesn’t take more than 10 seconds to load. Over the course of its life I’ve tried a myriad of things with the blog from changing operating systems to trying nearly every plugin under the sun that said it could boost my site’s performance. In the end the best move I ever made was to put it on a Windows virtual private server in the USA that was backed up by a massive pipe and everything I’ve tried hasn’t come close since.

However I was intrigued by the services offered by CloudFlare, a new web start up that offered to speed up basically any web site. I’d read about them a while back when they were participating in TechCrunch Disrupt and the idea of being able to back my blog with a CDN for free was something few would pass up. At the time however my blog was on a Linux server with all the caching plugins functioning fine, so my site was performing pretty much as fast as it could at the time. After the migration to my new Windows server however I had to disable my caching plugins as they assumed a Linux host for them to function properly. I didn’t really think about CloudFlare again until they came up in my feed reader just recently, so I decided to give them a go.

They’re not wrong when they say their set up is painless (at least for an IT geek like myself). After signing up with them and entering in my site details all that I needed to do was update my name servers to point to theirs and I was fully integrated with their service. At first I was a bit confused since it didn’t seem to be doing anything but proxying the connections to my site but it would seem that it does cache static content. How it goes about this doesn’t seem to be public knowledge however, so I got the feeling it only does it per request. Still after getting it all set up I decided I’d leave it over the weekend to see how it performed and come this morning I wasn’t terribly impressed with the results.

Whilst the main site suffered absolutely 0 downtime my 2 dozen sub domains seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Initially I had thought that this was because of the wildcard DNS entry that I had used to redirect all subdomain requests (CloudFlare says they won’t proxy them if you do this, which was fine for me in this instance). However after manually entering in the subdomains and waiting 24 hours to see the results they were still not accessible. Additionally the site load times didn’t improve noticeably, leaving me wondering if this was worth all the time I had put into it. After changing my name servers back to their previous locations all my sites came back up immediately and soured me on the whole CloudFlare idea.

It could be that it was all a massive configuration goof on my part but since I was able to restore my sites I’m leaning it towards being a problem with CloudFlare. For single site websites it’s probably a good tool and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in their DDOS protection (I was on edge after doing that LulzSec piece) but it seems my unique configuration doesn’t gel with their services. Don’t let me talk you out of trying them however since so many people seem to be benefiting from their services, it’s just that there might be potential problems if you’re running dozens of subdomains like me.

4 Comments

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  1. Hi,

    I actually work for CloudFlare & thought I would jump in. I don’t see that you contacted us & I’ll try answer the key issues you mentioned here.

    “How it goes about this doesn’t seem to be public knowledge however, so I got the feeling it only does it per request.”
    All caching is based on file extension & also depends on amount of requests for resources (we don’t cache *everything*). It can also take several days or so for the cache to build out.

    “However after manually entering in the subdomains and waiting 24 hours to see the results they were still not accessible.”
    The subdomains shuold have started resolving fairly quickly (5-10 minutes or so) if you chose the automatic TTL. One thing that might be a little confusing…
    You have a subdomain called abc.therefinedgeek.com.au entered in DNS settings. You also have another one that is http://www.abc.therefinedgeek.com.au. You would need to add both options in your CloudFlare DNS settings (www.abc is another subdomain).

    “Additionally the site load times didn’t improve noticeably, leaving me wondering if this was worth all the time I had put into it”

    The issue here is likely that you’re in Australia. Since we don’t have any datacenters directly in AU right now, it is likely you’re hitting a datacenter that is adding some latency when enabled on CloudFlare. While we just added a Singapore datacenter that should be handling some of that traffic, my hunch is you may have been directed to one in the USA (network routing is really tricky). This could only be confirmed with a traceroute from your machine to your domain while on CloudFlare.

  2. Thanks for dropping by Damon, I had wondered if you guys would see the post. You’re correct in that I didn’t contact you, mostly because I didn’t have enough time to troubleshoot the errors and just needed the sites back online.

    I had figured the caching was done that way, thanks for clearing that up 🙂

    As I said in the post neither the wildcard nor adding in the subdomains lead to them resolving properly after 24 hours. I don’t add the www entries for the subdomains so they’re no confusion there, so I’m still not sure what caused the subdomains to stop resolving.

    Good point Damon, I had just assumed that you had a presence in Australia without thinking about it. I have a couple other domains with which I could test that so I’ll give them a go this weekend and compare the results.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply, I really appreciate it.

  3. Hi David,

    I’m just wondering if you have re-assessed CloudFlare now they have an Australian presence?

    I must say, I only recently learned about CloudFlare and was a bit confused by their implementation of the CDN. Anyway I configured one of my domains, hosted in Australia, to see how it goes.

    I still have quite a few questions but on the surface I’m pretty impressed. It actually does was it says, as far as I can tell. It reported that my Bandwidth was around 1/2, the number of cached requests around 1/2 and prevented 19 attempts from spam bots.

    It’s still early days but I’m actually optimistic about keeping my sites secure and performing well without too much manual intervention. There was a time a while back when I was spending most of my weekends fixing hacked sites! Not a lot of fun!

  4. Hey Mark 🙂

    I haven’t gone back to them since I wrote this post last year but I have been thinking about going back to them. The original problem I had with sub domains won’t be an issue any more as I shut down the sites that were causing the issue and I also had to disable my current cache plugin because it wasn’t working correctly on my IIS hosting. From what I’ve heard from other bloggers it seems like they’re really hitting their stride with the product and I’m looking to reimplement it soon.

    I guess I’m semi-lucky with my relative obscurity on the net coupled with my not-so-stock setup (Windows and IIS) that’s helped keep my site hack free. I’ve had a few close calls but nothing like what other sites have had to deal with. If it was more of an issue you can bet I’d be trying a lot more solutions, but I just haven’t had the time spare to do so.

    Good to hear your positive experiences regarding CloudFare Mark; I should probably make the time to install and configure it again.

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