With nearly 1.4 billion inhabitants, China leads the world in Internet traffic. It is also the second largest market for San Francisco-based CloudFlare. The online security and performance company has been working to build 12 new data centers within mainland China. The goal is to expand their global network and launch local service beginning in January 2015.
The Censorship Hurdle
Despite its sheer number of Internet users, China maintains one of the world’s strictest online censoring regimes. The Golden Shield Project of the 1990s led to a massive content control system that has since become known as The Great Firewall.
The Chinese government filters all data from outside of the country, and not just entire web sites. Authorities utilize technology that allows for the filtering of specific pages within a site as well as exact phrases that are typed into search engines. China blocks most major social networking sites and even deletes mircroblog posts that are considered to be a threat to social stability. Many American television shows are banned from online video platforms, and the government maintains tight control on what news broadcasts are released to the public.
Doing Business in China’s Data Space
Even though the United States is responsible for supplying much of the technology that China uses for Internet censoring, major companies like Yahoo and Google have struggled to enter the market. Google eventually resorted to creating a separate self-censored website for Chinese users in an effort to appease the local authorities.
In order to be successful, outside business owners must partner with a local entity that can help manage operations. More importantly, this ensures that all company practices are compliant with government policies. Amazon, for example, teamed up with ChinaNetCenter to establish a presence that led to the launch of their first China-based data center in 2013. CloudFlare is now doing the same thing, but with a different partner and on a much larger scale.
Despite being publicly criticized for giving in to China’s suppressive practices, executives of large outside corporations fully realize the benefit of accessing this data space. CloudFlare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince agrees that doing some business in China is far better than doing no business at all.
Prince does not intend to change China’s Internet policy. CloudFlare is not a host, so it does not have the ability to remove information from the Internet. Removing a customer from the network simply makes that website slower, not invisible.
CloudFlare’s Business Strategy
CloudFlare focuses on two main elements: speed and security. Most new-age host providers play up a wide range of services. While this is not a bad move, it does create some geographic limitations. With a more exclusive approach, CloudFlare is able to distribute customer data from six continents using Anycast technology. Visitors to participating websites enjoy faster speeds because they are routed to the closest data center within the company’s global network.
Furthermore, this network continues to innovate with each new member. It already sees more traffic than Wikipedia, Amazon, and Twitter combined. Being part of CloudFlare means optimizing your web content for any kind of device. The system reduces the load on your web server by storing static portions of your site. On average, network members double their load speeds and use 60% less bandwidth.
Websites on the CloudFlare network are also highly secured. They are protected from a wide range of threats, including SQL injections, spam, and DDoS attacks. This is critical for international sites, especially those with a presence in Asia. Better still, the core service is free and requires only a small alteration to your DNS.
Who is Using CloudFlare?
Online businesses are looking for security, performance or both. The latter is the key advantage. Companies are finding that performance enhancements often lead to new security risks. Likewise, many modern security solutions end up negatively impacting performance. CloudFlare address both of these issues simultaneously and has developed a product that caters to a wide range of users:
- Fortune 500 companies
- National governments
- Large and small ecommerce sites
- Seasonal sites
- Individual blogs
What Does China Mean for the CloudFlare Network?
CloudFlare currently operates 30 data centers worldwide. Most of these are dotted throughout Europe and the United States. When customers began requesting faster speeds in China, the company started its three-year battle for approval to store data on the mainland.
Right now, Chinese customers and page visitors are still being routed through CloudFlare’s data center in Hong Kong. However, the 2015 launch is expected to make big changes worldwide. China-based companies will enjoy better performance, and network members outside the country will enjoy better access to their Chinese customers. Plus, even if content is blocked by the government, it will still remain accessible to any user outside of China.
The new data centers are also expected to significantly reduce the risk of security attacks on individual websites as well as on the network as a whole. Ironically, most of the severe attacks on CloudFlare’s network have actually originated in China. Local centers will be able to absorb these kinds of attacks from within before they make a global impact. As proof, CloudFlare confidently remains the sole supporter of Hong Kong’s online voting platform. This was the recent target of the largest DDoS attack in history.
Several customers have been chosen to be a part of the beta launch this coming January. CloudFlare is also encouraging interested parties to act soon. For Chinese customers, you must obtain government approval before joining the network. Fortunately, CloudFlare and its partner are working to make the process as quick and streamlined as possible.
There is also talk of opening up a regional office in addition to the existing sales offices in Japan and Australia. Considering CloudFlare’s recent involvement with Hong Kong’s democracy movement, speculations are centering on the largest SAR city.
The Current Outlook
With over 630 million Internet users, China is highly involved in online governance. Clearly, the country wants the United States to be involved, but will government authorities change the polices? That remains to be seen. For right now, CloudFlare customers can look forward to dramatic enhancements to their global network.
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