Originally aired on September 18, 2020 @ 6:00 PM - 6:30 PM EDT
Join Cloudflare's Head of Product, Jen Taylor and Head of Engineering, Usman Muzaffar, for a quick recap of everything that shipped in the last week. Covers both new features and enhancements on Cloudflare products and the technology under the hood.
Hi, I'm Jen Taylor. And I'm Usman Muzaffar, head of engineering. And we are very happy to welcome our friend and colleague Alex Dyner. Alex, please introduce yourself. I'm super excited to be here. I'm Alex Dyner. I lead the special projects team at Cloudflare. There we have our first question right away. Yes, which you can loosely think of as a corp dev and biz dev group. And so we do strategic partnerships, M&A, and then the China business also falls under our team, because we have two really important strategic partnerships there. And yeah, I'm super excited to be here and talk about anything you'd like to talk about, China related or not. I suppose we'll start there and then go wherever you guys take it. And then I'm going to start asking you questions. I know that's the challenge. If you bring Dyner on, he's going to ask us questions back. But so what we want to do with this week from latest in product and engineering is do a deep dive on China. I think as many folks know, we have a unique aspect to our service and our network, which is the fact that we offer effectively a single pane of glass solution, a contiguous experience globally, including China. And that is both unique and challenging in ways that present some interesting business and engineering opportunities for us. So first, Alex, why China? Why China? Why do we care about it? Yeah, why do we care about China? It's hard. The world is really big. Why would we want to go through all the time and effort of servicing the China market? One billion Internet users is the short answer. It's massive. And if you kind of think back to as a company, helping build a better Internet, we're a global company. And when we say that, we think of it globally. And so we don't mean is helping build a global Internet for 75% of the Internet, which is roughly what it would be. Without China, we very much want to do that globally. And so it's a part of the world and kind of a part of humanity that you can't ignore. And the last few years have been tough, obviously, with some of the trade and political dialogue. But the fact of the matter remains that the world is interconnected. And we'll see where that goes. And there are a billion people that are connected to the Internet. It's the second largest GDP in the world, and growing extremely quickly, despite the recent slowdown. It's still one of the fastest growing economies of the world. And we think about China, of course, for those of us who are outside of China as a large market. But it goes both ways. I mean, the Chinese are also very much coming on so strong and developing their economy so quickly, and becoming very quickly a developed economy in some ways as well. It's very uneven, the development there. And so they are also sort of reaching out to the global stage and have very much become a global player. And so a big part of what we do as a company, as you guys know well and lead, is we connect the world. And we have to do that very differently in China and be sort of very cognizant and empathetic to the different rules, regulations, cultures, norms, network topography, as Isman knows better than, and Jen, you know better than I do. But it's just enormous. And it's also a highly interconnected and highly connected society. They, in a lot of ways, skip some technology that we take for granted. You know, payments there happen over phones a hell of a lot more than they do through credit cards, right? And so you've got this entire part of the country that is banked unlike, you know, people in the United States or in the developed world are. So it's just a hugely important place for the Internet. So, you know, one of the things I heard about when we first started talking about, or I first started learning about sort of the Internet in China, you know, everybody started talking about sort of the Great Firewall of China, and of course being in the security business. I was like, my God, we'd never sell our WAF there. But actually, as I started working more closely with you, I understood that that actually meant something very different. When people talk about the Great Firewall, and they talk about the kind of regulatory environment around Internet in China, what is that? What does that mean? And sort of what kind of complexities does that create? Yeah, so, you know, it's a, it's a, it starts with, it's a different society, obviously, than the US society or most of the Western world. And, you know, whether you, whether you like that or not, from the culture of mores that we start with, you have to respect it. And it's a, it's the way, it's the way they do things are developing incredibly rapidly. And so they're managing that. And, you know, as far as the kind of technical implementation, a big part of the managing that is also managing, managing the Internet. And so it starts with, you know, from our standpoint, at Cloudflare for any, anyone who wants to have a website inside China, you have to apply for what's called an ICP license. So it's a, an application you make with an administrative agency in China, and make the application and they review that. And you have to be granted permission, if you want to host a website in China. And so and so it starts there. And if you if you are granted that, that license, then you can then you can proxy and host your content in China. So that's sort of one part of it. The second part of it is, and what that doesn't prevent in and of itself is a user in China, so someone going on the Internet there, of accessing a website that is hosted elsewhere. And, you know, part of what the quote, unquote, great firewall does is, you know, it's basically a blacklist of, of, of websites that the government does not allow or blocks Internet visitors from China from being able to, to get access to. And they do that through the, you know, in conjunction with the three large telecom companies, they're China Telecom, China Unicom, China Mobile. And that's how they that's how they regulate, that's how they regulate things. And so you have enormous numbers of people that are monitoring that, as well, and making sure that the content that is available inside of China is compliant with the Chinese law. But inside, inside China, like we go back to Jen's question about that WAF and the firewall and Cloudflare and security box, like, it's all there. And in fact, like, like you said, at the beginning of the top of the hour, we're talking about 25% of the world's Internet connected population, or more even like, I mean, like, oh, it's 1.2 million, I think was the last number you you scared me with this on a slide. It's over a billion now. It's like, everything about the Cloudflare stack is still relevant, modulo any, any other filtering that's happening at the national boundary. And so, like, that's just like, it's an incredible opportunity for us to, to go there. I want to, I want to talk about something that Jen just said, just two words that came up, as Jen was introducing the segment, which is single pane of glass, right? Single. I mean, so let's actually, so first, I wanted to ask Jen, like, what does that mean? Like, there's no glass and software. So what are we what are we talking about? What is this metaphor actually alluding to? And what's so awesome about it being single as opposed to double? What's what do you mean by single pane of glass? So, you know, when you're operating a network, you're operating a website, you need to kind of manage the configuration and control of it. And part of the value proposition of Cloudflare is that first kind of core of our ethos was was making our solution very easy to use. And the second was making the solution easy to use, not just from an interface perspective, but by effectively giving you a global edge network, such that if you put your service behind Cloudflare, you could feel confident that you could set your performance and security settings, and that those would operate globally. Yeah. Now, the interesting thing is, one of the challenging places in the world to create and maintain a consistent experience is in China, because it is often difficult for people who manage networks like ours, to create consistency and coherent cohesion between their global network and their China network. Largely kind of as Alex was touching on, there's a different regulatory environment and to comply with and be able to stand the network up in that market is really difficult for non-Chinese companies. And so often, other solution providers that service Cloudflare will offer you, sorry, other solution providers that provide services like Cloudflare, the global network solutions, will have a solution that services the rest of the world, you log into that, you'll configure it for the rest of the world, but if you want to service China, you need to swivel, log into a different service, and configure your China solution. And that just creates one complexity, two, it doubles the work, and three, it creates some level of risk, because you may forget to do something consistently in one or two, or it may not propagate as quickly. What we focused on, and what Alex's team helped us create, was a network that within, through partnerships, that within China, enables our customers to log into one interface, and create and configure solution settings that span the entire globe, including China. So our customers don't need to worry about that logging into multiple places, swiveling, remembering things, again, it's that single pane of glass. Yeah, put it another way, like I tried to pull a fast one, like I, as the engineering person, I was like, we built this software, Alex, why don't you take this DVD-ROM full of software, and get a partner to run this whole thing for us, and then that'll be great, then I can just, I can just go la, la, la, la, la, and not have to worry about this. And the correct answer is no, that violates our single pane of glass, right, so not at all what we, not at all the experience we want to give our customers. So we signed up for something way harder, and Alex, you can talk about that, like what is, what is the cloud-space solution for this problem? Well, yeah, and, and, and, you know, carrying on, on Jen's point as well, you know, what's, what's hard about this, and this goes back to the regulatory part, is that, you know, as a non-Chinese, only Chinese companies can operate data centers, the Internet, so there's other, there's tight regulations around, around that as well, and so that makes it even more difficult to kind of get this, to produce the single pane of glass in an integrated way, which is why we partner, and so we kind of, you know, threaded this needle where we have these two great Chinese companies, JD.com and Baidu, which are, you know, two of the largest companies in China, JD.com is sort of like the Amazon equivalent, they and Alibaba are, and Baidu, you can think of as the Google equivalent, and so in partnership with them, they operate this network, which, which they have to do under Chinese laws, very helpful for us, but we partner with them in, in the provisioning, you know, of the technology, and so from our customers' perspective, I mean, literally, one of our enterprise customers can click a button on our dashboard and get, to your point, you know, our WAF and our caching technology and all the other great Cloudflare features just to work, and that was, it's funny, I was talking to our head of Europe, head of EMEA this morning, kind of getting his feedback on, and updating him on what we're doing, and, you know, I said, well, you know, what do you need? He said, just the fact that we have this is incredible, right, because other companies have, they partner, other U.S. companies and European companies, they partner, so they don't partner, they, they, they contract with Chinese providers and basically hand off the traffic. That's very hard to configure, and you don't get the extension of, you know, the integrated Cloudflare performance and security technology into, into China. I think it feels like an advertisement now, but we're, we're super excited. What you guys have done, really, frankly, is amazing to pull this off, so. So Usman, what did you do to make this whole thing work? A lot of work. I, I mostly tried to get, you know, you know, part of this was, I remember a conversation with Alex, where Alex was saying to me, all right, I gotta, I gotta get you to see this, to see the value here, like, you're not there yet, Usman, I need to bring you, because I knew, and he knew what, what I also knew is, like, this is a big ask, like, this is tricky business, because what you're, because it's not our hardware, and it's not our network, but it's got to look and behave, not like it, but actually be it, so how is this, how are we going to pull this off? And so part of it was, you know, Alex showing me these numbers, like 1.2 billion, like, come on, listen, this is it, this is, there's so much here for them, for us, and so the, the, the, the challenge here was, okay, it's got to be our software stack, that part's straightforward, but it's not our hardware, and it's not our gear, it's not our colos, so the first part of the conversation is just really good, trustworthy relationship with the partner, and say, this is, this is, you can't buy the exact same spec server we have, but folks, this is what we need you to get to, so first, just literally starting with, with metal, like, can we agree on what kind of box we're talking about, and then a lot of partnership, and now we got to deal with time zone issues, with language issues, like all of that, to get to the point where, okay, servers are plugged in, they're racked, and we have control over them, and then our SRE and, and networking operations team starts uploading software there, and, and for a while, it looks like, okay, this is straightforward, like, we've got the bits there, we've got our, our things running, but now you come back to that single pane of glass, this is not a feature that's available for every customer, and we also want to make sure that it is available for Baidu's customers or JD's customers, meaning they're going to, they're going to use our software to service their customers in their way, so that's, that's the partnership side of this, and yet, we need to keep this separate, and yet, and consistent, because the configuration information for a, for a Baidu or JD customer shouldn't leave China, of course not, and the only part of Cloudflare's data and configuration that should go there should be, you know, exactly just what you need, so this means very surgically, carefully separating what part of information from the control plane goes across the oceans into the edge, and so, while the rest of Cloudflare is trying to homogenize everything, make it identical, make it, make it, you know, cattle, not pets, like, all those primary principles, here we have a giant asterisk next to any project that involves China, which is, we have to look at it from this other lens, what information should go and what shouldn't, and yet, once it gets there, it's got to, again, behave exactly like, like the rest of the stack, so sort of like, the bottom of the stack is identical, the top, the application part of the stack is identical, but the middle chunk in the middle, it's quite different, it has to be adapted, it has to be done differently to work, and I'm still just talking about giving customers control of their settings, you know, so we do that right, nobody notices anything, like, the lower teams, the upper teams, anywhere where you're on the stack, you can assume that everything, everything works the way it's supposed to, and then we have the challenges of operating in China, right, which is that those three big networks that Alex talked to, China Telecom, China Mobile, and China, you know, what's the, Telecom, I just blanked on that. Telecom, Unicom, and Mobile. Telecom, Unicom, and Mobile, Telecom, Unicom, and Mobile, that, you know, they, they don't always necessarily interoperate, and so we want to make sure that our solution can get the websites that are behind us to the visitor, the eyeball in China, regardless of how they're coming, and that means you can't rely on the same assumptions that you have in the rest of the world, you can't rely on a simple Anycast routing, you've got to be very clever and very smart about paying attention, where's the request coming from, what network is it coming on, therefore, what COLO should it be served by, there's a whole other line of smarts that's built into the China CloudForce solution to, to address all this, so that we can, at the end of the day, deliver exactly what we did, and then there's, there's completely different challenges, Chinese New Year is a big deal, like that, like, you gotta, that's a, that's a hard freeze, that's, you know, that's like Thanksgiving and Christmas and everything combined into one, so like, that, those, those, those dates are very important to respect, but we're running a global network, so the rest of our normal changes and diffs and everything have to go, so getting all this right meant a lot of coordination of partners with the folks on the special projects team on Alexa's team. Yeah, the network part is really interesting as well, you start to talk about that as well, which is, and it's really a reflection also of China as a, as a country, which I've had the privilege of learning so much more about over the last several years, we think of China as one, you know, large country with, you know, a billion four, four people, and really what it is, it's, it's, it's also quite regional, and you've got, you know, lots of different municipalities and regions and areas and government, you know, you know, autonomies almost in the country, and, you know, and, and people, you know, folks in the, in the south are quite different from the north, they're different, you know, sometimes ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. And it's also the way that the country, you know, in some ways is managed politically. And, you know, I don't know whether it's a reflection of that or a coincidence, but the network topography is equally sort of fragmented, not only among those three large players, but also within those players and across these different, you know, regions of the country. And that presents also, which is a huge opportunity for a company like ours, and for a service like ours to sort of streamline it, you know, smooth out the kinks and the, and the difficulties of interoperating those networks, and, you know, networks in Asia, and China specifically, are notoriously more challenging. And that's a big opportunity for us. And also, I find it really interesting to that, and exhilarating that we can kind of be a part of that and, and help improve that, of course, with our with our partners. Yeah, it's just like, you know, it was fun talking about the Chinese New Year, you talking about the regional differences, you know, one of the things I love about the work that we do at Cloudflare is really in that mission of helping build a better Internet and our global focus. Like you just start to understand and appreciate just different, the different cultures and the different communities and the role in which the Internet plays. And yet, at the same time, the connectedness that it creates on top of it, which is just this phenomenal thing. And I think for me, part of what's so exciting about what we're doing in China is really facilitating that connection with this, this population of a billion people that, you know, that live in different in a different culture. But, you know, Alex, you know, we have just spent a few minutes talking about here, why this is good for us. It sounds like it's a good deal for us. But potentially, I mean, a lot of work for Usman, but whatever. But, but like, but like, I know you, you're a good negotiator, right? And like, what's in it for the partner? What's in it for Baidu? What's in it for JD? Why, why do they want to do it with us? Yeah, I think that was a key to that. And the key to partnership, we have to, I always think you have to give more than you than you take, right for, for partnerships to work. And I feel really good about, about what we've done there. And about what we're doing now with JD, that's a more recent partnership we entered into earlier this year. And, you know, there's, I think there's two parts to it. One is, you know, we've been fortunate to be able to build this global network that has a really integrated software stack, which provides our customers with, you know, we start with security, but all sorts of security or liability and other features, you know, to help them on the Internet. And we do that in a way that doesn't do great performance, right? We talked about that a lot. So customers get a fast, safe experience. And so, you know, that technology in and of itself is quite valuable. And so, you know, partnering with a great company like Baidu and now with JD, you know, that's very exciting. And then secondly, we've also built out this great global footprint. And so we are within, you know, milliseconds of 99% of the world's population globally. And what's great about that, I think the timing was really great with JD as well, as a country, China over the last few years, has proactively been pushing at the highest levels and then that's gone, you know, down through the economy, a, you know, a go global philosophy, they talk about it. So really trying to encourage Chinese companies to go global, to reach global audiences. And, you know, that's both in terms of sharing their own technology, which they've become a lot more open to, but also pushing their companies out. So as their companies seek to reach customers all over the world, they want their websites also to work well all over the world. And that's where we provide to our partners is quite valuable. So it works both ways in the same way that, you know, us having a China network helps our customers, whether they're in the US, South America, Europe, get closer to Chinese eyeballs. Our network also helps the Chinese company get closer to the American, South American, European, African eyeballs, right? And so it's a very nice sort of yin and yang, which also works quite well in the, you know, in the Chinese philosophy. And so that works out quite well, and it feels quite balanced. So yeah, we're really excited to go full speed ahead here. And we continue to be optimistic, we have to be eyes wide open with, with, you know, the winds as they go back and forth, but we continue to be optimistic. Yeah, it's interesting, you know, whenever I'm explaining, like, oftentimes, just in part of engineering orientation, and in general state, I don't get it, who's the customer here, right? Like, so like, because it's confusing just from an account and zone ownership. And I always wind up drawing the two by two, Alex, and I think you drew for me, my first week, which is all right, look, there's four different permutations here. There's, there's, you know, you know, Cloudflare customer, Cloudflare eyeballs, that that's, that's, that's us. But then there's, there's, there's us making China available to global customers. There's us making the globe available to Chinese customers. And then there's China serving Chinese customers, which we are our stack, and it's doing it, but we don't we don't manage those customers, other than the infrastructure. But it's the same value. And it just shows you how, you know, how universal the appeal of the Cloudflare stack is and the feature set that the product team has, has refined over the years. And that part about that, you know, the Chinese customer, that's where we don't, and, you know, frankly, we can't in a lot of ways, right? You can't sell a Chinese, you can't sell Internet services as a dollar, it's not our customer, but it's still our right. That's right. And so we talked about the integrated nature and for our customers, it is a seamless experience, but it's equally important to talk about the separate nature of it from a regulatory standpoint, right. And so that is very important as well now, both to the US and to the Chinese regulators, that there's also the separation of networks, which we've been able to, you know, to pull off there. And the same is true of data. And when we when we when we announced the JD partnership in April, we were very thoughtful, mindful, but careful to describe that there's some data separation there as well. So it's this kind of this this balance that we've, that we've been able to, to strike. Alex, you just you just referenced the announcement we made earlier this year on the JD partnership. Obviously, we've been working with Baidu, and they've been a great partner for us. You know, why JD? Why a second partner for us in China? And sort of how did these how do these partners complement each other? Yeah. So they bring a, they're a different kind of company, what they do. So JD has built really the largest kind of infrastructure network inside of China. So they run this enormous network of warehouses, logistics. And they incredibly cover 99% of China's population, which is if you think about still how many people live in these rural areas in China, it's actually staggering that they can deliver a pencil to someone, you know, that lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere in China may not have electricity or, or God knows what, you know, running water and whatnot. So that's, that's amazing. And so they have very much, as a result of that, also seen the importance of building out a cloud business. And so launched that, you know, four or five years ago. You know, and because of this, because of their kind of infrastructure network, another cloud business, they really wanted to invest aggressively and saw us as a great partner. And as a result of that said, you know, we met with them, we've been meeting with them for a long time, but the timing just now worked out. But they said, you know, we said, we want to invest more heavily in building out more data centers in China. And so that they said, so do we, that's what we're doing. So there's this great synergy there between their opening up these new data centers. They said, why don't we just, you know, add just another rack and we can, we can, we can help you guys as well. And so we struck this agreement to add 150 new points of presence in China over the next three years. And it works well for, for both of us. So the timing worked out, worked out really well there. And Baida has been a great partner. We very much, you know, look forward to continuing to continue that great relationship as well. Yeah. And part of the reason that we invited Alex this week is, you know, we're always, as Jenna and I are making the list of things to talk about every Friday, just, we hit some really great, important internal integration milestones as our teams are working together with JD Cloud. And so we should, we should at least get Alex on and talk about China and talk about JD because we're firing on all cylinders on the inside. It's nice to see you. Well, and it's, it's interesting because I think, you know, part of the beauty of our product is it's kind of like a duck, right? It's kind of gracefully sliding across the top of the surface, but there, there were frantically paddling kind of beneath it. And I think it's, maybe people don't necessarily realize first kind of the kind of the, the amount of effort and the amount of investment and the amount of innovation that Usman's teams have done over the course of the past few years to stand up and service Baidu. And also in parallel, the amount of work we're doing now to really stand up and service and prepare ourselves really to, to go live with that JD partnership. And it's the thing that I also find amazing is, you know, they're doing all of this amazing and complicated work and now we're complicated because he got two and how do you handle two? And, but, but at the same time, there's still amazing amounts of stuff coming off the factory floor for you know, for, for features, for, for customers that are, that are global, that will ultimately features will be serviced everywhere and on top of China. So it's just, I just, you know, I'm always humbled in these moments when I step back and look at the accomplishments of our engineering team. And I, I tease, you know, I joke about, ah, whatever, don't worry about it. It's the, it, the team very much deserves their due and deserves their respect. You too, Jen, because your team, if I could just say that's, I agree with that completely. But also what's cool about it is your team as well, they will identify technology that we've used in another part of the world and then apply and then say, oh, there's a problem in China, but hey, we did something similar over there. We should, and vice versa, I hope also sometimes we, we do things in China that we realize, oh, we can actually use that now for India or in other parts of the world. It's such a great feeling. And, and, and I really want to thank both of you on behalf of the engineering team for being great partners. It absolutely was a team effort. Wow. That was, we've hit, we've hit end of, end of our, end of our slot. Alex, we need to, we need a dedicated show. I feel like I've already scratched the surface here. Well, we'll, we'll definitely have you back, Alex. I'd love to be back. Thank you all. Have a fantastic weekend. Thanks guys.