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CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince on Performance and Security

"We sit in the network between website visitors and hosts"

"Give us five minutes and we'll supercharge your website."

So goes a slogan on the website of CloudFlare, a new, dynamic company that seems to be getting a lot of traction in the security and ISP spaces. The company is headed by Matthew Prince, who co-founded it in 2009. Matthew attended the University of Chicago Law School, and was a practicing attorney for one day before deciding to something else. He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He had many interesting things to say in my recent interview with him, so we've broken the interview into two parts. Here is Part 1...

Cloud Computing Journal: CloudFlare has been around a little more than a year, but you and some of your current management team have been working similar issues for years, especially in addressing spam. So tell us a bit about Honey Pot and what relevance it has to what you're doing at CloudFlare.

Matthew: Back in 2003, Lee Holloway and I started Project Honey Pot as an open-source project to track online fraud and abuse. The Project allowed anyone with a website to install a piece of code and track hackers and spammers.

We ran it as a hobby and didn't think much about it until, in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security called and said, "Do you have any idea how valuable the data you have is?" That started us thinking about how we could effectively deploy the data from Project Honey Pot, as well as other sources, in order to protect websites online. That turned into the initial impetus for CloudFlare.

CCJ: You stress that CloudFlare is more like an ISP than a host. Can you expound on that a bit?

Matthew: Sure. One of the things that we thought was important with CloudFlare was that we played well with the existing technical ecosystem. We didn't want people to have to add hardware, install software, or change any of their website's code.

We also wanted to make sure that you could continue using the hosting provider you were using before and the registrar you were using before. The way we did that was by allowing CloudFlare to be provisioned at the network level.

We sit in the network between the visitors to your website and your host. From there, we can accelerate and protect your traffic without needing to take over hosting your actual content. What's really incredible about the system is that it is so easy to setup. On average, the setup process takes about 5 minutes and will work regardless of what your existing infrastructure looks like.

CCJ: With mutliple datacenters in the US and the world, it seems you've created sort-of a "multi-datacenter cloud" or "ueber-Cloud" of some sort. Is this accurate? And what, if anything, does that mean for your customers?

Matthew: We're not really into buzzwords, but if we were I guess you could say we've created a "special-purpose public cloud."

Most of the "cloud" providers around today are really just next-generation hosting providers. While there's value in what they're doing, it means they're trying to be a little of everything to everyone. That inherently comes with limitations that don't let you take advantage of a geographically diverse, massively redundant architecture like we have at CloudFlare.

By focusing on the performance and security verticals, we can sit in front of any hosting environment -- shared, dedicated, colo, cloud, private datacenter, or otherwise -- and add a layer that will make any website faster, safer, and more available worldwide.

What we've found is that, especially for some of our enterprise customers, they are excited about what we're doing because it allows them to get the high availability and scalability promised by the cloud without needing to move all their data out of the systems they trust and control.

CCJ: It seems your main selling point is hackproof security. Is this accurate? And I would assume you become more confident of the robustness of your infrastructure every time someone tries to disrupt or hack into one of your customers' sites. How much stronger do you get on a weekly and monthly basis?

Matthew: The two main reasons that people come to us are performance and security. About half our customers come to us initially because they want their site to be safer and are delighted to find that we'll make it faster too. The other half come because they want their site to be faster and are delighted to find we'll make safer too.

If you look at the market for performance and security solutions, after cost, the top reason that performance solutions aren't implemented by a business is because the potential for it creating new security risks.

Similarly, after cost, the top reason that security solutions aren't implemented is because of their potential impact on performance. By creating a product that addresses both performance and security, we've addressed both issues. And, to address the cost concern, we've made CloudFlare extremely affordable for any budget.

Coming in Part 2 - A little talk of censorship, the US and Chinese governments, and caching static portions of websites...

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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