Product Reviews

Krystal CDN

Founded in 2003, Krystal is a UK web hosting company which owns and manages its own server network.

The company also offers an OnApp CDN-based content delivery network that can be used to accelerate any site, whether it’s hosted by them or not.

Krystal targets the service at first-time users and low-bandwidth sites, and we do mean ‘low’. The company says most of its customers will need less than 50GB bandwidth a month, although much more is available if you need it.

The Krystal website is clearly aimed at the CDN novice, with very little technical detail on the service.

We’re told that ‘multiple worldwide servers’ cache all static files, persistent server connections reduce HTTP overheads and DDoS protection shields your site from attack. A pre-caching option can fetch files in advance, so they’re ready for the first request, and free shared SSL can be enabled with a click.

On the plus side, if you’re a CDN newbie who just wants to try the technology on your WordPress site, Krystal’s simple approach could have some appeal. There’s minimal jargon, no lengthy list of complex options to consider, and if you do run into problems, 24/7 support is provided via email and a UK phone number.

Pricing

Krystal CDN is available via two plans, both with identical features but supporting different levels of data transfer.

‘CDN 50GB’ is priced at £5 ($4) a month, and allows you up to a monthly 50GB traffic. That’s equivalent to £0.10 ($0.125) per GB, perhaps two to three times the price of a budget CDN (KeyCDN charges $0.04 per GB).

‘CDN 500GB’ ramps up your traffic allocation to 500GB for only £35 ($44) a month, cutting the per GB price to a mid-range £0.07 ($0.0875).

This lower price is a little more appealing: it’s fractionally cheaper than Amazon Cloudfront, throws in support as well, and doesn’t have any hidden extra charges to catch you out.

Krystal’s problem is that other OnApp-based services can be priced significantly lower. FDC Servers is priced at $5 (£4) per TB per month, or $0.005 per GB, less than a tenth of what Krystal’s charging. CDN.net’s most expensive plan gives you global coverage and 500GB traffic for $20 (£16) a month, less than half Krystal’s asking rate. Both companies have significant issues, but with prices like that you might be tempted to take a gamble.

There is one Krystal plus, and that’s a three-month free trial, enabling you to test the service before you buy. It’s more limited than some at a monthly 50GB, but that’s enough to see how the service works and get an understanding of the performance increase you might benefit from.

Setup

The Krystal website clearly displays a ‘Start your free trial’ button at the top of its CDN product page, and it only takes a click to fire up the purchase process.

Signing up involved a little more form-filling than expected, as we had to create a customer account, define basic CDN details (origin URL, CDN name), agree to a product plan, navigate through a shopping cart and enter some personal information (name, physical address, phone number).

We didn’t have to enter any payment details, as the shopping cart automatically discounts the initial monthly fee.

Krystal’s post-payment procedure was unhelpful. A popup window gave us an order number and various options to pay, even though the trial was free, and an email invoice confirmed there were no charges yet. But there was no email introduction, no links to our CDN console, startup guides or anything else, and we were left to figure out the next steps for ourselves.

We headed off to the Krystal client area, clicked ‘CDN’ and noticed our CDN 50GB plan was the only item listed in a sparse control panel. This was marked as ‘Pending’, which presumably meant it hadn’t been set up. We would have expected Krystal to tell us how long this would take, both on the website and via an introductory email, but couldn’t find any information anywhere. Even the website knowledgebase had nothing at all about the CDN.

This seemed a good opportunity to test the ’24/7 support’, so we raised a ticket asking how long CDN activation might take. Four hours later a reply arrived apologizing for the delay, and within minutes a second email told us the service was ready.

Logging in to the control panel, we found our CDN was now labelled as ‘Active’. We clicked ‘Manage’ to see what options were available, and found one of the most basic CDN management consoles we’ve ever seen.

The service opened with an Overview screen listing our origin URL, CDN hostname, CNAME record and SSL status. This was just a static display, with no settings we could tweak or adjust.

A Purge screen provided the usual options to clear individual cache assets by URL, or dump the entire cache with a click.

The final Statistics page has just two charts showing daily bandwidth and monthly bandwidth, and the amounts delivered from the origin and the cache. That’s very limited, but there is one small bonus: a button to download the charts as images (PDF or SVG files).

Krystal CDN is seriously underpowered, then, with no significant way to customize the service at all. While this makes for a simple interface, Krystal offers no documentation to help users understand what they need to do to set the system up, or say, to integrate it with WordPress, test that it’s working or troubleshoot problems. We found no guides, no tutorials, not as much as a tooltip, and if you’re targeting the first-time user that’s really not good enough.

Performance

It’s always difficult to say what kind of speed increase you’ll get from a CDN. The results vary depending on the type of site you have, the size and type of files and the geographic spread of your visitors, amongst other details.

One way to get a basic idea of a service is to check its response times. It’s a single figure, but an important one, and Cedexis enables comparing multiple CDNs based on real world data covering billions of user tests.

Krystal is powered by OnApp CDN, which is included in the Cedexis database. We decided to compare OnApp response times with three other services covering a wide range of abilities: Cloudflare is fast, Cloudfront is mid-range, and Leaseweb is towards the bottom of the table.

OnApp response times proved well below average in North America and Europe, with the service lagging behind our other CDNs.

Fortunately, there’s better news in the rest of the world, where OnApp’s large number of locations gave it first place in Asia out of our test CDNs, and second in Oceania, Africa and South America.

These figures come with a caveat – they relate to the full OnApp network, and we don’t know which or how many locations Krystal might be using. Still, there’s a clear pattern here, and if your website is largely outside Europe and North America, it’s possible Krystal CDN will deliver above average performance.

Final verdict

Novice UK-based users with basic needs might appreciate the local telephone support, but otherwise Krystal is too overpriced and underpowered to recommend.


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About the author

Ola Thomas