Originally aired on April 1 @ 12:30 PM - 1:00 PM EDT
We’re turning 12! 🎂 Join our Birthday Week kick off in 15mins with Cloudflare’s SVP of Engineering Usman Muzaffar and CTO John Graham-Cumming as they talk about the hard (and fun) work that has gone into Cloudflare’s 12 years.
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Birthday Week Hub for every announcement and CFTV episode — check back all week for more! . All right. Hello and good morning from California. My name is Usman Muzaffar. I'm Cloudflare's head of engineering and I'm joined by John Graham-Cumming. But First Chief Technology Officer. John, nice to see you. And good afternoon to you. I'm from Lisbon. It's been a long time since I think you and I have been on Cloudflare TV, just the two of us. So I was I was looking I was happy when the team said, Hey, do you want to interview John? And I was like, Yeah, let's do that. I haven't talked to John in a while. We should sit down with people who are watching a little bit about ourselves. Why don't you start? Yeah, well. I've been a Cloudflare. Oh, it's getting close to 11 years, actually. Now it's funny because we're doing Birthday Week, which is right now our birthday is actually tomorrow, September 27th and Cloudflare launched 12 years ago on that day. on that day, and I joined Cloudflare a little after the first birthday of Cloudflare. So yeah, it's been 11 years. Yeah. And I remember you sending me an email before you joined. Cloudflare, said You should go, You should check out this company called Cloud. Actually, I think that email was even a little bit more direct. But yeah, eventually it was very direct. The subject line was Cloudflare and the brevity of the message said, I am joining. Full stop. You should too. You should too. Period. That was it. That was it. Yeah. And so since you used to be my boss and have been my boss at four different companies, I think I have this correct. I listened to you and did you. And although it did take me a few years to come around. Yeah. When did. How long has it been now? I'm trying to. I hit six years next month, so. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. 50% of cloudflare's or just about 50% of cloudflare's. Existence. I've been around for incredible change. I mean, I thought it was a big company when I joined. At 300 employees, I think it was it was the biggest company that I joined in a while. I've been hanging out in small startups until that point, and I remember thinking this is enormous. Millions of dollars in revenue, trying to about to approach 100 data centers. That felt mind boggling. Dozens of engineers we were measuring in dozens of those days, there were six engineering managers. I was like, wow, six whole engineering teams. And that seems awfully quaint now with our current size. You know, it's funny you say I think about the data centers because when I joined there were four. I don't think I ever asked you that number. Yeah, there was if I remember right, there was San Jose, Chicago, which was also very important to Cloudflare and Amsterdam and Tokyo. And I think Tokyo didn't really work. I think we were onboarding it or something around the time I joined. But the funny thing is about data centers is, you know, you and I work together in the past and we used to we were just a company where we were selling shipping people hardware, if you remember, like better than rack of servers. And almost nobody thinks of data centers unless they are a cloud provider themselves and they have to build the cloud or they can't build on the cloud. So one thing we always talk about data centers like, well, we need to do that. The other people are doing it, the ones who are obviously sporting internal apps that they want on their own hardware. But it feels weird to talk about all those locations. But we have to because we're not built on someone else's cloud. We are cloud. Yeah, it's that great T-shirt. The cloud is just somebody else's computer. It's our computer. It's our computer. Yeah, this comes. This comes up occasionally. Even in your orientation, when I lead a session, in fact, I'm doing one later today. I'll explain in broad strokes how to spot the work. And every now and then there's someone who's technical enough to know how cloud computing works for every other piece of software they've heard about, and yet not technical have to be part of the engineering and understand. And so they're like, I don't understand. Well, where's the cloud in this? Where are the cloud? So yeah, it's awesome. It's excellent. It's awesome. So as you mentioned, we've worked at a bunch of companies together. Is it four. Yeah, I think it is four. Right, yeah. Yeah. It's Electric Cloud, Interwoven. We want to see One Script, Electric Cloud, Interwoven and Cloudflare. And that's four. There you go. See, I can count, but none of those other companies had anything called Birthday Week. So what is this? How did this become part of the Cloudflare culture? How do how does it work? Why do we even do it? So let's start with what? What is it? Well, it's a week of announcements. There's on average this week there's five announcements per day. I believe tomorrow there might be like 11. There's some crazy number tomorrow of blog posts at least. And we bundle up in a week, a bunch of announcements around a theme and we call the generic term for these things is innovation weeks. We talk about innovations that Cloudflare has done or is doing, and that might be a new product release, a new feature, a new technology and new protocol, something like that. So we'll do those innovation weeks around a theme. So in the past we've had like Privacy Week where we talked about all of the products we have that help people enable consumer privacy around the world because that's a big issue in different parts of the world. You need to figure out where your data is going to reside and stuff like that. We've had Impact Week where we looked at things like our use of electricity, our impact in terms of things like Project Galileo and the Athenian Project Security Week, where we talk about security innovations around cryptography and all this sort of thing. So we had these innovation weeks, which tend to happen throughout the year, and we always have Birthday Week and Birthday Week happens around our birthday's around the end of September, around September 27th, and we tend to release things during Birthday Week which are quite forward looking or are really quite substantial changes, we think to how people think about Cloudflare and also how the Internet works. And sometimes we talk about things that sort of give back to the Internet because obviously we all benefit from the Internet. Cloudflare obviously does too. So give an example where back in 2014 we introduced universal SSL. And if you dial way back then prior to let's encrypt getting, you know, getting an SSL certificate, I mean, it was like trying to get a bank account. It was like, well. Who are the angry that I had barely any funding in my startup and I had to pay money for a number and a number I could generate. Like if you had access to the private key, you could get it right today. Well, it's not rocket science. It's well documented. It'd been known for a long time. And there was there was a small provider that did free SSL certificates, but it was kind of weird and I was just like, We'll just give it to everybody. We'll just give everybody a free gift. And that was kind of like one of those what kind of moments. So that's a that's an archetypal Birthday Week announcement. I mean, another one was we announced unlimited details. One that comes right after that mind is and that's that's really interesting because that was a thriving enterprise segment of our business as well. Right. So there's there's good reasons to to raise an eyebrow with that. If you're inside. I'm like, wait a second. Isn't this my job to sell this? Yeah, I know. So we talk through how we thought about that and why it was so important that we felt it had to be free. Well. So I think overall in Cloudflare, we think that there's a danger in keeping things in the in the enterprise world, in the in the high touch, high support kind of world, which tends to be expensive. And the danger is that someone else comes along and out flanks you. Right. I mean, this is the classic innovator's dilemma thing. If somebody comes along and says, well, I can do that cheaper and they come up and eat you from below and cloud based on that to a certain extent with our products. Detox is a great example of that where I think at the beginning the people who were selling incredibly expensive deals, mitigation stuff with the scrubbing centers and clean pipes and all this kind of stuff, I'm sure they looked at those and said, Who are these fools who? So they can do mitigation. But just like in the classic innovator's dilemma and over time you get better and better and better and Cloudflare because of the size of Cloudflare, I mean, there are constant deals, attacks. I mean, I used to look at that dashboard of these attacks and I just gave up because it is like there's always something. It's always something somewhere. Pain going on. There's always like, Oh, that was 100 gigabits per second. We don't even like water off a duck's back kind of thing. And so there was a sense that the technology was just technology. When you look at your phone, look at how much power you have in your phone. I was watching Sneakers the other night. I mean, Sneakers as they sit down. Right. They sit down on this tray. I think it is. And I was sitting there thinking when this film was made, which is 30 years ago this year, that was one of the most powerful computers in the world. Yep. And now my Apple Watch is like, I don't know, 1000 times more powerful just for to draw the clock on the front face. So technology, so, like it makes no sense to hold on to this and say this precious jewel is worth a fortune. Actually, we should give it away. And DDOs attacks are a scourge. I mean, they just like everybody gets debt. It's amazing how like big businesses, small businesses, personal blogs would. It's like it doesn't make sense financially to charge this. It's better for the Internet if this stuff goes away. We're just going to give it away for free. And we're going to do a similar thing this week. Actually, there's an announcement this week. I think. There's another. Unmetered thing, something that used to cost an X or Y and it cost. Now everybody gets it, including mine on the. Free. Very exciting. I do want to go back to a second because you said a sentence that is really near and dear to your heart is better for the Internet. And in fact, it's a key part of the company's mission is help build a better Internet. Yes. What do we mean by that? And that was one of the first things you said to me when you were joining, when I was looking to join Cloudflare. And in those days, you actually describe it as we're trying to patch the Internet because our original products were all very much far more related, but help build a better Internet. What does that mean to us? And, and how does that help inform the vision of our products? Yeah. So what you say about the Internet that's actually written on my original offer letter, Matthew was working on a handwritten it says, let's go patch the Internet because he and I talked about this idea that the Internet fundamentally grew in this incredible way, in part because it has a lot of missing features. There's no security. Right. There's no security. In fact, if you go and look at the original RF Keys, there is some security which nobody uses, which is all about document marking, like the US government secret. I was looking at this myself the other day because I was thinking, you know, John's always said about how if you go look at the original, I should go look at that and see what's there. You're absolutely right. It's just a single bit. It's not about encryption, is it? There's a field which says this packet is top secret. Top secret. And also this packet came from the Department of Defense. You know, it's like it's totally crazy because nobody uses that. So because there was none, because it was this loosely coupled system, it was able to grow enormously and it continues to grow because people can stand up a network. I was talking to one of our very enthusiastic MVPs in the Cloudflare community last week and they were like, I have my own network, like literally their own bit of the internet. And I was like very nice and I was like, That's so cool. Someone can do that right in their home. So I think the Internet grew without all this stuff in it. And so we were like, Well, somebody's going to have to fix this because the choices are either the world decides to get more rigid in the Internet or people come in and particular private companies come in and say, Here's how to protect things. And you mean everybody else needs security on the Internet? I mean, if you remember way back, people were worried about Internet banking. Is that safe now? Because their get their phone out, go to an app, transfer some money, I mean, all that kind of stuff and everything is being done online. And I remember. The first time someone said they were buying a car online. I thought that was so irresponsible. Yeah. What do you mean? Come on, I. You can buy small, you can buy or write books online, but you can't buy a car. Yeah, you can. Turns out. Yeah. It turns out you can buy it online. That's right. So I think that notion that the security needs to and so this idea of this better Internet is one that is more secure, faster, because we've all got used to past experiences, right? I mean, like I can summon someone, a car to come to my house and drive me somewhere like that. And so that's the other side of the security as well. Privacy, I think, is a big part of that that's really coming now. And in the next few years, it's going to be a huge part of what's happening. So and the other thing is, when I started at Cloudflare, there was there was a two level world on the Internet. There was a very small number of companies like Google, Yahoo! At the time, which was really big. Probably Alibaba, you know, Amazon. Like there was this coterie of like this pantheon of companies that had the best Internet in terms of security and speed. And like you went to Google because it was fast and you trust them because it was secure and literally everybody else was playing catch up and all of the things that would help you make your thing secure or secure or fast were either expensive or simply unavailable because in fact, it was like they had magic knowledge about how to make this stuff work. And I think, you know, when I joined, the idea was I mean, the company had already thought about this. I was like, this makes no sense. This should just be a service. You should be able to do the loss mitigation. Why isn't that not just a service? Why isn't WAF a service? Why is it like arcane knowledge reserved for everybody? So you sort of like better internet is if everybody can get it level of level playing field. So once again, when you think about unmetered DDoS, well everybody should have that, right? So you're just trying to make it that we can trust the Internet to do the things we want to do and where we're part of doing that. That's that definitely is what better help making a better Internet. And by the way, the word help is really important in that it's not build a better Internet. We're not trying to build the second Internet, but like, hey, our Internet is better than your Internet. Ours is more secure because the Internet grew through cooperation. What we're doing is working with the standards bodies to roll out the latest protocols. And usually, Cloudflare is ahead of everybody else. If there's a new security method, if there's a new space protocol, will we know about it and we're pushing it out. So if you're using us, I always want it to be the case that if you hear about a technology performance, technology, security, technology on the Internet and you Google it, you should find that we've already implemented it or we're experimenting with it because we will help you be the best. So it's like democratize all those things that the Googles of the world kept for themselves in their ivory tower and make it available for everybody. Yeah, it's really great. And it also means that ease of use becomes not just a nice to have, but this really important pillar of how we build products. Because if it's not easy to use, then it doesn't matter that we have the best technology. It's too hard to adopt again if we're trying to target the the small websites, the little e cross websites, the mom and pop stores, etc., everybody that without something like Cloudflare would be forced to completely go all in on a particular platform. I remember in the early days, Matthew, talking about how Facebook was a concern that maybe the individual web page would go away and everything was going to wind up being that we'd all wind up effectively with pages in a bigger and a bigger system in a community like Facebook. And we felt really that it was very important that you should be able to run a website and protect it and scale it. I mean, scale is the other huge aspect. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Reliability is the other huge part of how do you make sure things are reliable. And that's why things like our resolvers and are having a presence all over the place and things like cache online. So many different features we've built and shipped over the years often and on step Birthday Week to help make it easy for customers to do that, I wanted to change a little bit to talking about how birthdays week, how birthday we sort of works on the inside because you have so many ideas. Like you said, there's like literally dozens and dozens of ideas that come together. You talk a little bit about what does that how does that work and what does your what's your role in this? You know, sometimes we say that you're the editor in chief of the Cloudflare blog. The blog is a key part of how this all works. Frequently, I get asked from other engineering leaders at different companies, how did you how did you come up with a culture of innovation? But how did you come up with a culture of talking about your work so prolifically? We're always writing, we're always speaking. We're frequently on Hacker News, which I think a lot of companies and BI certainly envied when I had my own startup where what are some of the things that have worked for us? John, how do we how do we organize ourselves and how do we get the word out and decide what we're doing? So I think from a, if you just focus on the blog slightly for a minute, I mean, I think early on. We obviously want people to know about us, be they customers or very importantly, potential employees. And how do you get somebody to be interested in you? I mean, what you can't do is say I'm interesting right now, which is which in a way is what marketing actually does. I mean, marketing's job is to tell a story about an end state that you hope your customer wants to be in? Right. You're projecting forward and saying, you know, wouldn't you love your security to be really great? Here's what it will look like if you adopt Cloudflare solutions, which is great. That's what marketing is. Sell is selling that idea. But when you're talking about technical people, and particularly if you think about employees, they want to imagine themselves working there and our customers want to imagine themselves using our product. Like, what is it like? What does it do? So talking about it in depth became kind of natural because it was like, Well, we should just talk about these things. And that extended into when we have problems because that creates a huge degree of trust, right? If you know, a lot of companies do this stuff, they have a problem and they sort of like we're very sorry if there was any inconvenience caused by the fact that we accidentally destroyed your entire country or something. And it's like, wait a minute, what do you mean, potential problems? Of course there were problems, like, you know, so. It's obvious that's the thing, right to the end user. They're the ones who felt the pain. Yeah. And they know they felt the pain. It's like you can't like it just sounds to so wimpy. And then the other thing is, if you're an engineer and you're a technical person with decision-making in a company, the reality is you have your own worries. You've been through risk management, you've had outages, you are trying to understand technology. So if you sit there and you're like a trusted partner, you're like, this is what we do is how we do it. These are how we solve problems. These are issues we had. Suddenly you're like, Oh, I can talk to these people. These are humans, you know? And so that I think, just became almost a natural thing for us to do. And we and we, we kept doing it. And to go back to Birthday Week, I mean, what happens is there's a sort of a formula, right, for these innovation weeks where we have like here are some things that are becoming betas here's and things that are going or the week we did a massive job. Different kinds. Because it's so much stuff the thing is we've grown so much. There's so many things. There's a confluence of things become available at the same time as we do a whole week on that because so then it's like really audacious ideas, which if you look at today's announcements, the Cloudflare SIM card, I think there's a lot of people are going to be like, what? You know, didn't expect that and expect a data plan from Cloudflare. So that's going to be really interesting. And then there's a part of like how we work with other partners, how is this fit into the whole ecosystem? Because obviously we don't operate alone. So these things come together and there's all sorts of teams work on this, right? So there's like the product team is your team like on the technical side of things, the security team, the sport team that are also people have got things they would like to talk about at this point. And obviously there's a period of figuring out that we're going to do this, we're going to not do that, etc.. And then there's the blogs, right? The blogs start getting written. And that's that's where I get really the editing and trying to make sure people write clear, understandable stories about what it is they're announcing or the technology they're using. And we have a very specific voice on the blog, which is tends to be a little bit an engineer talking to an engineer, or at least. I like to describe it as it's what you would hear if you overheard two engineers at. Lunch. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And lunch at tech companies is always is is a really important part of a tech company. I've always felt, like that's sometimes where the best conversations happen because you stepped away from your desk for a bit and someone's asking you, Hey, how's it going? And you may describe a bug or you may describe something you're excited about. And that's very much the voice of the blog. Exactly. Now, it's certainly true that we also we have an internal blog, right? So if you go on our wiki and there's vertical blog posts, those are even more detailed, right? It's like here's an investigation. Those are really fascinating. And we have that weekly company meeting where anybody in the company can speak about anything. So it could be a sales win, a sales loss, a new feature, something from the people team. So I think we have this, this culture of talking about stuff, but we really try on the blog. My goal in the blog is if people come to me and they want real feedback, it's like educate, educate, educate. But we need to educate people. Tell people about something, hey. So the problem here is new technology. He has this, he's a partner. We're working like really educate them and use very, very clear, simple language like we try to. Well, there's lots of jargon. We really pull back from jargon. We explain jargon. So hopefully there's a topic you're interested in. You may not know about it. You can read one of our blogs and come away thinking, Oh yeah, I got that. That's interesting. I should talk to them about Zero Trust SIM cards. There you go. That's what's today. To me, one of the great litmus tests that. We do a good job of that is that very frequently? Many, many times during the week, I need to read up on something to educate myself to get better at it. And I might just literally type the keyword for that thing in Google. And the first or second hit is a Cloudflare blog. A few years ago, where we first introduced and the first third of the blog is laying out, okay, here's how this. This is what this is. Here's what's sort of interesting or broken about it. And here's what we're doing in our product to address it. Exactly. And it's it's a real testament to how disciplined we've been about what we should be talking about this technology. And I cannot tell you and I'm sure you've heard some a million times, too, how many people say thanks for your blog. It really helped me understand something and in a way that I didn't see it explained anywhere else. And that's really great. And we're not trying to do that kind of like marketing thing, whereas like this new technology, it's going to change your life. Where we like this new technology, it's X percent faster and you need to make sure you've deployed a Z and you know, yeah, we want you to feel like it is technical and it is engineering driven. Yeah, absolutely. And pivoting from that in the last few minutes here. So we talk about how the blog is great for developers. Let's talk about the products Cloudflare released, because it's really been a revolution at Cloudflare and the products we're enabling for developers and it keeps showing up in Birthday Week and it's going to show up again this time. The Dev platform, which is popular, Workers, we made our to our storage service available last week. Talk a little bit about that, John, and where you see what Cloudflare is providing because that's that's that's a little more subtle than just build a better Internet, help build a better Internet. That's actually help the people who are building the Internet. Building better Internet. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know. I think what we're building is love. But what I want is, I want a scalable version of the eight bit world. And what I. Mean. All right, here we go. See, we should have started the call with this book. And I wrote a blog post about this, which I wrote about this, where I turned on one of my old eight bit machines from the from the eighties. And you think about the AP machine is Spectrum. Which one wasn't? It was a BBC Micro, my biggest microphone ever owned. And you know, if you remember those machines, you turned them on and you could type in a program and run it. And you didn't do anything else. You just made your thing right. And fundamentally, I think what programmers want to do is get something done right. They want everything else moved out of the way. They're like, Oh, I need to do this thing. Why do they adopt frameworks? Why do they use this stuff? It's like, Well, I have a thing I want to build. I want to do X. And so in the big world, you just did it on your machine and you ran it. And if you switched it off, you hadn't saved it. You lost it. Right? And. And. That world is nice for developer because you just make your thing happen. Now, of course, we're in a scale, we're in a different world. We don't ship software to people. We want to put it on the Internet. So I want to reproduce a world where you've got an idea. You can go in there and say, Right, I'm going to build. I'm going to build the next generation small business spreadsheet slash accounting application, because I've got this vision that accountants all over the world are going to use, that we should just build that on Cloudflare and not worry about scaling it. It's the cloud of the 21st century. Yes. It's like, I'm going to build that and I'm going to build that and it's going to be scalable infinitely to the entire world. Cloudflare will worry about the data stores, though. Help me understand the privacy implications around the world. They'll do the security for me. I just want to write code and deploy it at scale. So that's what we're doing. And there's another announcement about that this week. So I think that's that's what we're trying to do. And the reason it comes back to a better Internet is like we all expect the Internet to just work for us and to be trustworthy. And if you put it on our network, then we can we can scale it and we can make it trustworthy everywhere around the world. And I think that it fits very nicely into what we're doing around the old school de Dos and CN and WAF and all that sort of stuff. And then of course there's a whole other part of our business which is Zero. Trust Zero Trust this is online actually. What's, what's the, what's, what are some of the interesting what can you tell us about Zero Trust in Birthday Week? Well, I mean, today we've announced Zero Trust standards, right? So that's I. Think that's a really big deal. Right? So that's data plan. Here's my phone. He's got a Cloudflare data plan in it. It can connect into Cloudflare directly, not go across the Internet and can do Zero Trust from there. I think that's very the world is moving to being highly, highly mobile. So that's one of the announcements this week. And of course, the other side of it is magic, the magic line of things, which is replacing people's entire networks. Right. Get rid of MPLS. And we become the we become your ISP. If we help both sides connect, then literally we can become using the current internet. We have helped build a better internet. Yes, I know you can bring a fiber line into us or go across our backbone, but the idea is that the network becomes a software layer. And this happened, right? We used to buy package software and install it on servers. I mean, nobody does that anymore like some people do, but it's like it's like an unusual thing. It became just software defined and then computers became so forever. I remember the first time I saw a virtual machine and I was just like, Whoa, whoa, you know? And now it's like, I can just I can spin up an object. Well, I can spin up as many machines as I can afford, basically, at this point. So why is this not happening at the network layer? Well, guess what? It is the network is it should be completely software defined without hardware. And that's what's happening. It's going to be so great. Well, John, thanks for talking to me this morning. I think we've just hit time. I encourage everybody to check out blog.cloudflare.com, where all these announcements are written about in depth and you can see all the stuff and follow it this week. It's going to be an action packed week with a lot of it is announcements. It really is going to be an action packed week. I mean, there are a bunch of announcements where I think people are going to be like, Oh, that's interesting. I didn't expect Labor to do that. Or, Wow, the developer platform just got a little better, or That's free now. That's amazing. There's a bunch of. Announcements and we're only 12. We're not even a teenager, so. Not even 18. Yes, exactly. Next year. Next year, we'll be. John, nice talking to you. Thanks everybody for watching. Yeah, right. Right. and,