Cloudflare Debuts Argo to Accelerate and Secure Internet Traffic

New service aims to go beyond a traditional Content Delivery Network, to reduce latency and improve security.

Cloudflare Argo

The internet is not a static entity as traffic and connectivity demands constantly impact performance. In a bid to help improve performance and internet connectivity, Cloudflare is launching its new Argo service to help accelerate and secure internet traffic.

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince refers to the new Argo service as 'Waze for the internet', a reference to the popular consumer app for vehicle traffic. The basic idea behind Argo is to use Cloudflare's globally distributed network as a virtual network backbone to make intelligent routing decisions with advanced next generation protocols to improve internet performance.

"Cloudflare sees approximately 10 percent of all internet request made on a daily basis," Prince told eWEEK. "That enables us to build a real-time map of how the internet is performing."

What Cloudflare has been able to do is measure the actual latency, throughput and packet loss across all major internet transit points. Cloudflare has 115 data centers around the world and each of those locations has an average of six different internet service providers (ISPs) providing bandwidth and connectivity. According to Cloudflare, the Argo service can reduce latency by an average of 35 percent.

"We have connected all of the 115 data centers together to form a virtual backbone which sends traffic from one point on Cloudflare's network to another point on Cloudflare's network," Prince said. "It has the benefit of lower latency and we can also upgrade connections to be encrypted."

The idea of having an accelerated network is one that Content Delivery Network (CDN) providers have been offering for well over a decade. Prince said that Argo is different than a traditional CDN in several respects. He noted that CDN services are typically about caching traffic as close as possible to end-users.

"For static assets, Cloudflare has always done a good job of delivering CDN-like services, " Prince said. "Where Argo shines is with data that can't be cached, either dynamic content or things like APIs that can now benefit from an intelligent network."

Routing across the internet today is done with a number of different protocols, including the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). Cloudflare is not replacing BGP and holds connections open between data centers with BGP.

"We're creating a tunnel at Layer 4 that is interconnecting the various data centers in our network," Prince said. "We're still sitting on top of traditional internet protocols but we're able to better optimize using more efficient versions of the protocols to deliver traffic."

He added that Cloudflare in effect is adding a layer on top of BGP, that enables intelligent decision making on which paths to route traffic.

Improving internet performance for data transfer often also involves investment in high-speed internet connectivity. Prince said that Cloudflare is connected to 'extremely fat pipes' running with 100 Gigabit Ethernet ports.

"Effectively what we're able to do is aggregate traffic across dumb pipes, add a layer of intelligence on top and build a more intelligent network without owning a single line of fibre," Prince said.

Aggregating different internet connections to improve connectivity is not a new idea in networking and is often something that Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN) vendors aim to provide as well. Prince said that Cloudflare isn't interested in being an SD-WAN vendor, rather he emphasized that Cloudflare's mission is to build a better internet.

"Now that we have built a network with massive scale and we're able to operate at 80 percent gross margin, we're looking at other ways to deploy our intelligent network," Prince said.

One of the other ways Cloudflare is using the power of its network is to protect internet of things (IoT) devices with the company's Orbit platform that was announced in April.

Looking forward, one of the new ways that Cloudflare's network might be used is to further improve security with a new type of Virtual Private Network (VPN) service.

"Imagine a VPN service that actually makes the internet faster," Prince said. "What people want is to get data from one point on Earth to another, quickly, securely and reliably and that is the network that we have built."

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.