An Africa CDN Can Actually Hurt Your Site!

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Africa has a CDN problem. It’s unique in that almost every CDN company has a server in Africa but using it will probably slow down your site! We’re so used to the idea of “needing a CDN”, that we never pause to consider the exceptions. And Africa is an exception.

Finding cheap web hosting for Africa on the other hand, is easy. Any reliable web hosting service will do. Hostgator is a standard example. Nothing fancy, cheap, and reliable. Here’s a list of the top Hostgator coupons to get you started.

Only One Johannesburg CDN – And it’s Far Away

Cloudflare is indisputably the expert in assessing bandwidth costs around the globe. After all, they handle more Internet traffic than any other CDN. So their analysis of bandwidth costs in Africa is enlightening. Africa is one of the most expensive places for bandwidth – clocking in at around 14 times the average.

As a result, most CDN companies can’t afford to have more than a single POP or EDGE server in Africa, and that one is typically Johannesburg. And that’s far down in the South of Africa, as shown here:

Johannesburg is far away in a corner of South Africa
Johannesburg is Far Away from Most African Cities

So despite Africa having 54 countries, CDNs typically have just one service point far away from almost everyone else – Johannesburg. This has implications for web hosting as well. You might think it’s a good idea to have a server that’s hosted in Africa. But is it really? How far away is Johannesburg exactly from the major Internet hubs in Africa?

Distance from Johannesburg to Other Cities

So exactly how far way is Johannesburg? Let’s compare the distance to three major cities – Casablanca, Cairo, and Abuja:

Johannesburg to Cairo, Egypt: 8,733 km
Johannesburg to Casablanca, Morocco: 11,380 km
Johannesburg to Abuja, Nigeria: 6,885 km

You can see that the distances are enormous. Africa is a huge continent! So when your CDN claims that they have a datacenter in Africa, it’s not that big a deal. We’re still talking about several thousands of kilometers.

Datacenters in Other Countries Are Closer

On the other hand, there are plenty of countries outside Africa, with data centers that are closer to the major Internet hubs, than Johannesburg. For example, if you have a CDN in Paris, that is only 3,209 kilometers from Cairo. Almost a third of the distance from Johannesburg!

The same is true of other CDN locations like Germany or Italy. In almost all situations, these are better places to serve data from, compared to one in South Africa.

Unfortunately, many CDNs don’t have this kind of smart routing, and will blindly serve content from the Johannesburg data center to users in Cairo or Casablanca, simply because it’s an “African data center”. They want to show their customers that they’re serving content from Africa even though it’s further away!

I myself have tested this using a few CDNs, and with the exception of one, they all used the Johannesburg datacenter for Africa traffic.

Which was the exception?

Cloudflare is the Only CDN to Get it Right

In all my tests, Cloudflare is the only CDN that served content from the closest CDN, and not from the CDN in the same country. At least when it comes to Africa. For countries like India, it’s a slightly different story that has to do with bandwidth costs.

When I checked using a proxy connecting from Egypt and Morocco, Cloudflare served my static content from Paris, Berlin, and Rome. Three locations that are all closer to my target countries, than Johannesburg. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Despite being free, Cloudflare really is the best CDN for a regular website owner.

Bottom Line

In addition to serving content from the smartest location, Cloudflare also acts as a reverse proxy, which means to additional DNS lookups to resolve the domain name for the CDN. So if you’re a website that targets visitors from Africa, do the smart thing and don’t use a traditional CDN network. Cloudflare is more than enough for your needs, and does a better job than all the others. For free!

About Bhagwad Park

I've been writing about web hosting and WordPress tutorials since 2008. I also create tutorials on Linux server administration, and have a ton of experience with web hosting products. Contact me via e-mail!

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