Content delivery network CloudFlare announced the opening of its first Canadian data centre in Toronto yesterday, placed to address the growing amount of Web traffic seen originating from Canada.
CloudFlare offers Web site performance and security services for clients around the world, handling a total of 60 billion page views per month for its clients. Canada is the top-seventh country for where all that Web traffic is coming from, according to CloudFlare co-founder and head of user experience Michelle Zatlyn. Now traffic normally routed to Chicago and New York from cities like Toronto and Montreal will have an even closer access point.
“I’m happy to have a dot on the Canadian side of the map,” Zatlyn says, who grew up in Prince Albert and attended school in Montreal.
CloudFlare is a service used by Web businesses looking to improve their performance and security. It sits between the end-user and the business’ Web server, and optimizes the connection. Web site visitors are routed through the closest CloudFlare server to connect. CloudFlare caches all the information on the Web sites it its network and only delivers the new information to visitors to reduce page load times. The service also blocks malicious traffic from customer Web servers.
“You’ll see 65 per cent fewer requests to your server,” Zatlyn says. “We just make the server run more efficiently.”
Ottawa-based CanaFlora has been using CloudFlare’s service for its online flower shop and e-commerce platform for about a year now. CEO Andriy Azarov was looking at Amazon’s CloudFront Content Delivery Network when he came across CloudFlare, which was described as a more affordable alternative.
With annual revenue of about $3 million and 22 employees, CanaFlora didn’t have a big budget to provide a Web infrastructure to its white-label e-commerce service for online gift retailers, Azarov says. When he connected all of his 100 Web sites to CloudFlare’s service, he noticed right away that page load times were improved.
“It basically cut the load time by an average of two seconds,” he says.
There was also a pleasant surprise as a result of connecting with CloudFlare. CanaFlora had been seeing attacks on its Web sites about once per month before signing on as a customer. It would be hit by distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) or code-based attacks focusing on its open source Joomla backend.
“As soon as we switched to CloudFlare, this problem disappeared,” Azarov says. “Any hacker that tries to hack us right now will get CloudFlare IPs, they can’t get to our physical server.”
CloudFlare analyzes its community of Web sites for any malicious activity. Once it finds an attack, it blocks it across the entire community. It also delivers reports to customers on what attacks were stopped from reaching their Web sites.
CloudFlare’s services begin at a really low price – free. Individual sites or blogs can connect with the network for no charge. That helps the content delivery network amass more intelligence for its paying customers, Zatlyn says.
“The fact we offer a free service means we have more knowledge to share with our customers,” she says. “On the security side, you can spot threats arising. On the performance side, you can see where the user is coming from and what they’re using to connect.”
There’s also a Pro plan for $20 per month and $5 per month for each additional Web site. The Business plan costs $200 per month for each Web site, and the Enterprise plan is $3,000 per month.
Subscribed to the Pro plan, Azarov would recommend the service to other businesses. But he shares a couple of “minor issues” he’s had with the company.
Once his Web site was down for 10 minutes as a result of a CloudFlare outage. It happened to be during a busy ordering time around Mother’s Day, and Azarov felt he lost some sales as a result. He asked CloudFlare for some free service in return for the outage, but was turned down.
“I didn’t really like how the guys handled it,” he says.
Another time, installing a third-party app from CloudFlare’s one-click app installation service caused Azarov’s Web site to go down for six hours. The problem was related to a partner app, not CloudFlare’s service. He had to call in an IT advisor to help fix the problem.
CloudFlare’s Toronto data center will be online Aug. 1, Zatlyn says. It’s one of a series of nine new data centres recently opened worldwide.