Incapsula CDN Review: Will it Help You Win the Google ‘Speed Update’?

Need to increase your website loading speed by as much as 50%? Read our review of Incapsula CDN to find out if their technology is right for you.

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Katie Horne
Katie is a C# developer-turned-technical writer who loves the Oxford comma, NYT Crossword Puzzles, and knitting for no reason whatsoever. She has a love/hate relationship with JavaScript and thinks that package managers are the bees knees.

Last Updated on August 5, 2020

(August 2019 Update: the Incapsula CDN is now part of Imperva FlexProtect.) The Incapsula Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a global network designed to improve your website’s performance while lowering the cost of your bandwidth. It does so via intelligent caching, cache control options, high-speed storage, and optimization tools.

Research has shown that a delay as small as one second in site loading can cause a significant loss in traffic and conversions. Google recommends that sites load within 500 milliseconds to 2 seconds max.

How Incapsula Can Benefit You

Speed is king, and the primary goal of a CDN is to improve your page load speeds. Incapsula claims that, on average, websites using its CDN are 50% faster.

Additionally, these sites consume up to 70% less bandwidth; if you’re not on a hosting plan that features unlimited bandwidth (or throttles bandwidth after you’ve exceeded a previously-defined number), you’ll find this outcome helpful.

incapsula cdn
Incapsula’s services are used by over 3 million websites. Big brands like Hitachi, Garmin, and Carrefour are among their customers.

 

How Incapsula Works

There are several key features that make Incapsula capable of speeding up your page load times and reducing your bandwidth usage:

Fast Site Loading Times

Caching resources means that something (such as a web page or an image) is stored and can be served to the user without additional calls to the server. However, not everything should be cached.

Things that tend to be static, such as HTML files, images, and JavaScript resources, are obvious candidates for caching, but other things, such as weather displays and other dynamic areas, are not.

Machine Learning Creates Dynamic Caching

Conversely, dynamically generated resources, which change over time, shouldn’t be cached. Incapsula, therefore, uses machine learning to determine what should be cached and what shouldn’t.

This means it isn’t wasting resources caching dynamic aspects or not caching static aspects, leading to slower page load times. The advanced learning system continuously profiles your website’s resources to gather information on the frequency with which files are updated.

Adjust Your Caching via Modes

Furthermore, you can set the mode of caching for your account. You can choose from the following pre-defined options:

  • Disable Caching: No caching is performed, and all content is transferred directly from your server to your user
  • Static Only: Cache only content that you have marked as static using standard HTTP headers
  • Static and Dynamic: Cache the content identified by Incapsula’s algorithm as static. Incapsula applies a learning algorithm to your site, which profiles all its resources and identifies those that it considers static. This learning algorithm reruns every time it detects a change on your site, though you can set the frequency with which this runs
  • Aggressive: Cache all site content; you can set the time period for which the cache refreshes

See all Incapsula features

You can also implement custom caching rules, via the Incapsula GUI, so that your CDN caches things based on the file’s name, type, folder path, or URL parameter.

Client-Side Caching

In addition to server-side caching, Incapsula automatically optimizes client-side caching on your behalf. This means that as much content as possible is cached and stored locally on the user’s computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Give Your Users a Superior Browsing Experience

For repeat visitors, this ensures the best possible user experience due to faster page load times.

If you ever need to completely clear your cache, the Instant Cache Purge can clear out the content across the Incapsula network in less than one second.

Video above: Get a quick overview of what Incapsula offers.

Self-Healing Mesh Network Topology for Reliability

The primary way a CDN works is to decrease the distance between your visitor and the server from which the files are served. You might be limited in server location with your web host, which is where CDNs come in.

With a global network, a CDN can pull files from your server, store them, and serve them from the location closest to the visitor. As such the larger the network, the more likely it is your visitor will get a quick response.

Datacenters All Over The Globe

The Incapsula network consists of 44 data centers located on five different continents around the world, and it is capable of handling 3.5 terabytes per second.

A Novel Model that Provides Resilience

Instead of using the traditional hub-and-spoke model for its network, Incapsula has opted for what’s called a mesh network — each individual server can communicate with all other servers, instead of having to relay messages through a central location (or the hub, in a traditional network).

This means that issues in one location do not have a ripple effect on other locations, leading to increased reliability and resiliency.

With data centers spread out across the globe, site visitors from all over the world will enjoy faster delivery of your content.

incapsula datacenters
Incapsula is continually expanding their global network of datacenters. Now, in September 2018, there are 7 new datacenters under construction.

See Incapsula CDN for more information

Incapsula’s Content and Resource Optimization

Content caching is just one aspect of improving your users’ experiences. To boost performance further, Incapsula uses a wide variety of optimization techniques on your site, including:

Dynamic File Compression

Compressing files means that a smaller file is sent from the server to user, which obviously takes much less time. Most web servers and browsers support content compression, but configuring your web server to do this automatically requires technical knowledge.

As such, Incapsula automatically compresses files it sends out on your behalf, so even if you aren’t able to do so on your web server, you can be assured that the smallest file possible is sent.

Image Compression

Images may not be the largest files in use on your site, but given the frequency with which images appear, you may be able to obtain great increases in speed with the appropriate optimization techniques.

Incapsula offers multiple types of image compression, which allows you to find the right balance between image quality and site performance. And remember, you do lose some quality when you compress images.

Progressive Image Rendering

Additionally, Incapsula enables you to render images progressively. What this means is that a lower-quality image is displayed almost immediately, and as time progresses, the quality improves.

This has the benefit of providing your users with an immediate visual response (as opposed to a delayed response, which is what would happen if the browser didn’t load until the full, high-quality image did).

What is Code Minification and Why Will it Boost my Site Speed?

In short, minification is the process of removing all unnecessary characters from a source code without changing its function. In a lot of languages, whitespace and new lines characters are unnecessary. Comments are also not necessary to the code parser.

These two things are added only for the readability of the developers. The downside to this readability is that it adds to the file’s size. Removing these characters results in a smaller, faster file. Incapsula, when delivering files, performs code minification on the fly.

Session Reuse

Also known as keep-alive, session reuse allows Incapsula to maintain an open connection with your web server for short periods of time between sessions. The means the additional calls happen faster, which is useful especially if you have a secured site.

TCP Connection Pre-Pooling

Calls to your server require a new connection, and it takes time to do this. As such, Incapsula will open several connections simultaneously on the first call, reducing the waiting time required to return the requested resources.

Video above: How are small businesses using Incapsula? Triton Digital shares their experience. Browse the Incapsula YouTube channel to find other interviews with small business users. You may also want to browse Incapsula’s tutorials, webinars, and meet-up videos to get a sense of what resources are available via video.

Other Features From Incapsula

In addition to the features above that directly impact your page’s performance, Incapsula offers the following features that indirectly improve your site:

  • Bad Bot Misdirection: If Incapsula determines that there’s a malicious bot attempting to access your site, it will redirect the bot, clearing the way for legitimate, human traffic.
  • URL Beautification: Incapsula allows you to easily set up redirection so that users see a cleaner, simpler URL
  • HTTP/2 Support: HTTP/2 offers significant improvements to page load speeds and responsiveness, as well as enhances security for your site. You can easily enable this protocol for your site with just a few clicks in Incapsula, and you don’t have to update your existing infrastructure.
  • Security: Incapsula comes with real-time traffic monitoring, DDoS protection, web security, failover handling, and load management. As a result, if there are any issues with the CDN network, your users are not likely to notice it.

Security Benefits of Using Incapsula

We have briefly mentioned several times in this review that there are security benefits associated with using Incapsula’s CDN, but what are they exactly? Let’s take a more in-depth look at the protections you can purchase from Incapsula.

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

Because Incapsula’s CDN is the gateway for all incoming traffic to your site, it is in prime position to filter out malicious visitors. Incapsula’s Web Application Firewall (WAF) is the method by which the company identifies things like SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks, and so on.

Additional WAF features include:

  • PCI-DSS certified (protects credit card information)
  • Protection against SQL injection
  • Blocks bot access control
  • Protects against remote file inclusion (RFI)
  • Ability to develop custom rules
  • Blocks false positives while reducing disturbances for legit users
  • Virtual patching so you can update applications on schedule
  • Support from a dedicated team of security experts
  • Allows for white and blacklisting
  • Exception handling, so you can build a customized security solution

Protection Against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack occurs when a malicious party uses multiple computers (sometimes numbering in the thousands or more) to send requests to a web server.

Web servers are capable of handling a large number of requests, but the goal of the malicious party is to send so many attacks that the web server cannot cope. The result of this attack is the web server crashes and is no longer capable of handling legitimate requests (such as those from your customers).

The technological details on how one can protect a website against DDoS attacks is outside the scope of this article, (here’s a deeper dive into DDoS attacks, if you’re interested) but suffice to say, Incapsula offers always-on DDoS protection that automatically detects and mitigates attacks targeting your website.

Video above: Curious how a DDoS attack works? This video provides a simple explanation.

Failover Handling

Periodically, Incapsula performs server health checks to ensure that everything is working okay and that it is handling incoming requests appropriately.

However, if the health checks detect that there is something wrong with your website, Incapsula spins up a backup site to which all further incoming traffic will be rerouted. This ensures that none of your customers will see error messages instead of your website.

Load Management

One way that Incapsula ensures that your website runs optimally is via load management (or load balancing), where incoming requests for your website are distributed among several servers.

Because there are multiple servers handling requests, your users will see faster loading times (this is like a supermarket checkout — overall, people will get out more quickly if there are multiple checkouts open to handle the lines).

Incapsula Pricing and Billing

All new users to Incapsula get a free, no-risk trial. Afterward, there are several options from which you can choose.

Personal bloggers might be interested in the free plan, which includes bot mitigation, CDN use, and support for two-factor authentication.

The next plan up is geared toward professional bloggers, which gets you everything included in the free plan plus:

  • Web application firewall
  • Advanced performance
  • PCI compliance report
  • Backdoor protection
  • SSL support.

For small businesses with thriving websites, the next plan up gets you everything already mentioned plus:

  • Protection against network layer DDoS attacks
  • Protection against application-layer DDoS attacks
  • Automatic DDoS detection and security triggering
  • Support for custom SSL certificates.

Midsize and enterprise-level users, however, can also purchase the following features:

  • 24/7 support and an uptime SLA
  • Support for custom security rules
  • Real-time event monitoring
  • Load balancing and failover
  • Infrastructure DDoS protection (BGP)
  • The option for managed services
  • API access and custom branding.

The only plans that require service commitments are the enterprise-level subscriptions.

See Incapsula CDN for more information

Alternatives to Incapsula

Incapsula is not the only provider of CDNs around. Here are some other options you might consider:

Cloudflare

Cloudflare is a very popular CDN, especially since the company offers a free version that integrates easily with many web hosts. Cloudflare operates a network that is much larger than Incapsula’s, but the company does charge for select features that come standard with Incapsula’s plans. With that said, Cloudflare’s global network is a boon, especially if you are expecting visitors from around the world.

Amazon Web Services’ Cloudfront

Amazon’s CloudFront is a relatively new offering, but it is nevertheless feature-rich. Like all AWS offerings, Cloudfront ships with robust documentation, but this doesn’t mean that it is easy to use. Incapsula seems to be more of a managed CDN with excellent support, while Cloudfront is geared toward those who are on the tech-savvy side.

However, if you want to operate on a strictly per-use payment plan instead of signing up for a contract (required only for enterprise customers), AWS would be a good option.

Summary

Incapsula’s CDN is a solid, full-featured CDN that goes above and beyond, hosting your site’s files geographically closer to your site visitors to improve the end user experience. If you’re looking for a holistic solution for your site, Incapsula might be a good fit for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Incapsula

Still not convinced that Incapsula CDN is the right choice for your site? Below, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about Incapsula.

How much does Incapsula cost?

Prices start at around $59 a month and go up from there. They also offer enterprise pricing, which you will need to call for a quote. They offer an easy to use Plan Advisor, which lets you tell them what features you need, and they will recommend a plan best suited to you.

Is Incapsula better than Cloudflare?

Objectively, yes. Incapsula is better than Cloudflare because it offers a lot more features particularly when it comes to security. A lot of people consider Cloudflare because they offer a free plan and Cloudflare Pro is just $20 a month. The right choice for you is going to depend on your needs.

The Incapsula site offers a helpful, point-by-point comparison between their features and Cloudflare’s.

Video above: How do you connect your website to Incapsula’s service? This video shows how easy and quick the process is.

Does Incapusla offer a free trial?

Yes, they offer a free 14-day trial for the Pro Plan and 7-day free trial for the Business Plan. After the free trial period is over, you will continue to the paid plan if you don’t cancel. It does look like you will have to enter payment info before getting the free trial, so you will need to make sure you remember to cancel if you don’t want to be charged.

What cities does Incapsula have datacenters in?

Here is a list of a few cities where Incapsula has datacenters:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Dallas
  3. Chicago
  4. Los Angelas
  5. Miami
  6. Toronto
  7. Mexico City
  8. Vancouver
  9. Dubai
  10. Amsterdam
  11. Paris
  12. Frankfurt
  13. Zurich
  14. Istanbul
  15. Vienna
  16. Hong Kong
  17. Sydney
  18. Osaka
  19. Jakarta
  20. Seoul