Is Cloudflare Argo worth it?

Cloudflare Argo reduces network latency on average by 35% and connection errors by 27%. Traditional network technologies use static routing information which can be slower and often use congested paths. Slow loading times and connection timeouts increase the likelihood of poor user experience. The Cloudflare company routes 10% of all HTTP/HTTPS Internet traffic. This provides them real-time intelligence on the true speed of network paths. Cloudflare’s Argo smart routing algorithm uses this information to route traffic across the fastest paths available while maintaining secure connections and eliminating excess latency. Argo propagates content via Cloudflare’s 100+ data centers.

 

Cloudflare Argo enabled on this blog

Cloudflare Argo response time

Above: Histogram of haydenjames.io Time To First Byte (TTFB). The blue and orange series represent the before and after.

Although the vast majority of visitors to this blog are from the United States. Almost one third of visitors are from Europe. With the UK, Germany and France at the top. This was one of the reasons – also plain curiosity – why I decided to give Cloudflare Argo a test run. In short, if you have a significant chunk of international traffic it’s more than worth a try. Even if all of your web traffic/online sales are US-based, you will still see around 35% response time improvements. With page loads for this blog hovering around the one second mark the reduction of 300+ milliseconds of response time in Europe and Asia was welcomed.

Cloudflare Argo response time by geography
Above: Each circle represents a Cloudflare network location. The larger the circle, the more traffic is being served via that location.

TTFB measures the delay between Cloudflare sending a request to your server and receiving the first byte in response. TTFB includes network transit time (which Argo Smart Routing optimizes) and processing time on your server (which Argo has no effect on. See below graph for Nginx’s response time for this blog).

 

Cloudflare Argo setup vs Previous Setup

Nginx Full page Cache stats via Nginx Amplify
Above: Scren crop of Nginx Amplify graphs (this blog). The response time spike due to my WordPress admin back-end activity.

Without Cloudflare Argo, I used Cloudflare’s FPC (Full Page Caching) via page rules for 300ms+ off cached response times.
With Cloudflare Argo, I’m using Nginx w/ fastcgi_cache for FPC. This means all page requests, even uncached, benefit from Argo.

Cloudflare page rules
Above: My current Cloudflare page rules. FPC could still be enabled here, but I prefer the flexibility with it off.

The goal for this blog was to set Cloudflare’s edge servers to the max of one month TTL (time to live/expire) for statics. Since there’s no FPC enabled, there’s no need to clear Cloudflare’s cache. This is more convenient than using Cloudflare FPC with a TTL of 4 hours or whatever the previous setting was. Over the past year, with full page caching enabled, I found Cloudflare’s cache had to be cleared either in-part (new posts, categories, tags and front page) or the entire cache (and/or dev mode) during design changes or other global reasons. Since moving full page caching to Nginx and using Cloudflare Argo the blog now has better overall response times for BOTH cached and uncached requests.

Cloudflare Argo Bandwidth
Above: Shows my monthly Cloudflare bandwidth usage. Argo is priced at $5/domain monthly, plus $0.10 per GB of transfer.

Cloudflare Argo unique visitors
Above: 30 days of Unique blog visitors.

 

Cloudflare Argo – Conclusion

I also measured improvements using Pingdom and other tools. Of course, when Cloudflare’s EDGE servers are set to cache everything/FPC, it’s a bit faster for cache results. However, for my needs, I wanted to get away from using Cloudflare’s FPC page rules without the 300+ milliseconds hit to response time. Argo has allowed this and with a longer EDGE cache TTL of 1 month for statics instead of 4 hours for FPC, resulting in much higher cache hit-ratio. This with just 3 page rules, keeping cost down. Of course, you are free to use Argo + cache everything page rules together if that suits your setup.

Considering that 300ms amounts to as much as 30% of this blog’s total page load time (when including response times/TTFB), Cloudflare Argo makes a noticeable difference! It’s certainly not free, however, you do get the advertised 35% improvements in response times and in my case almost twice that. In closing, if you are obsessed with page speed and measurable performance improvements, you should give Cloudflare Argo a spin!

Note: The thoughts expressed are my own opinions after using the Argo service for the past few weeks. Your results may vary. Enjoy!

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