Welcome to Speed Week! Each day this week, Cloudflare is going to talk about doing the Internet meaningfully faster for everyone.
Cloudflare has built a massive network of data centers in 180 cities in 75 countries. One way to think of Cloudflare is a global system to transport bits securely, quickly, and reliably from any point A to any other point B on the planet. Since almost 2 uears back there is the option of activating ARGO. It´s a very interesting feature – even it´s not free. Please read on!
To make that a reality, we built Argo. Argo uses real-time global network information to route around brownouts, cable cuts, packet loss, and other problems on the Internet. Argo makes the network that Cloudflare relies on—the Internet—faster, more reliable, and more secure on every hop around the world.
We launched Argo two years ago, and it now carries over 22% of Cloudflare’s traffic. On an average day, Argo cuts the amount of time Internet users spend waiting for content by 112 years!
As Cloudflare and our traffic volumes have grown, it now makes sense to build our own private backbone to add further security, reliability, and speed to key connections between Cloudflare locations.
Today, we’re introducing the Cloudflare Global Private Backbone. It’s been in operation for a while now and links Cloudflare locations with private fiber connections.
This private backbone benefits all Cloudflare customers, and it shines in combination with Argo. Argo can select the best available link across the Internet on a per data center-basis, and takes full advantage of the Cloudflare Global Private Backbone automatically.
Let’s open the hood on Argo and explain how our backbone network further improves performance for our customers.
Argo is like Waze for the Internet. Every day, Cloudflare carries hundreds of billions of requests across our network and the Internet. Because our network, our customers, and their end-users are well distributed globally, all of these requests flowing across our infrastructure paint a great picture of how different parts of the Internet are performing at any given time.
Just like Waze examines real data from real drivers to give you accurate, uncongested (and sometimes unorthodox) routes across town, Argo Smart Routing uses the timing data Cloudflare collects from each request to pick faster, more efficient routes across the Internet.
In practical terms, Cloudflare’s network is expansive in its reach. Some of the Internet links in a given region may be congested and cause poor performance (a literal traffic jam). By understanding this is happening and using alternative network locations and providers, Argo can put traffic on a less direct, but faster, route from its origin to its destination.
These benefits are not theoretical: enabling Argo Smart Routing shaves an average of 33% off HTTP time to first byte (TTFB).
One other thing we’re proud of: we’ve stayed super focused on making it easy to use. One click in the dashboard enables better, smarter routing, bringing the full weight of Cloudflare’s network, data, and engineering expertise to bear on making your traffic faster. Advanced analytics allow you to understand exactly how Argo is performing for you around the world.
You can read a lot more about how Argo works in our original launch blog post.
So far, we’ve been talking about Argo at a functional level: you turn it on and it makes requests that traverse the Internet to your origin faster. How does it actually work? Argo is dependent on a few things to make its magic happen: Cloudflare’s network, up-to-the-second performance data on how traffic is moving on the Internet, and machine learning routing algorithms.
Cloudflare’s Global Network
Cloudflare maintains a network of data centers around the world, and our network continues to grow significantly. Today, we have more than 180 data centers in 75 countries. That’s an additional 69 data centers since we launched Argo in May 2017.
In addition to adding new locations, Cloudflare is constantly working with network partners to add connectivity options to our network locations. A single Cloudflare data center may be peered with a dozen networks, connected to multiple Internet eXchanges (IXs), connected to multiple transit providers (e.g. Telia, GTT, etc), and now, connected to our own physical backbone. A given destination may be reachable over multiple different links from the same location; each of these links will have different performance and reliability characteristics.
This increased network footprint is important in making Argo faster. Additional network locations and providers mean Argo has more options at its disposal to route around network disruptions and congestion. Every time we add a new network location, we exponentially grow the number of routing options available to any given request.
Better routing for improved performance
Argo requires the huge global network we’ve built to do its thing. But it wouldn’t do much of anything if it didn’t have the smarts to actually take advantage of all our data centers and cables between them to move traffic faster.
Argo combines multiple machine learning techniques to build routes, test them, and disqualify routes that are not performing as we expect.
The generation of routes is performed on data using “offline” optimization techniques: Argo’s route construction algorithms take an input data set (timing data) and fixed optimization target (“minimize TTFB”), outputting routes that it believes satisfy this constraint.
Route disqualification is performed by a separate pipeline that has no knowledge of the route construction algorithms. These two systems are intentionally designed to be adversarial, allowing Argo to be both aggressive in finding better routes across the Internet but also adaptive to rapidly changing network conditions.
One specific example of Argo’s smarts is its ability to distinguish between multiple potential connectivity options as it leaves a given data center. We call this “transit selection”.
As we discussed above, some of our data centers may have a dozen different, viable options for reaching a given destination IP address. It’s as if you subscribed to every available ISP at your house, and you could choose to use any one of them for each website you tried to access. Transit selection enables Cloudflare to pick the fastest available path in real-time at every hop to reach the destination.
With transit selection, Argo is able to specify both:
1) Network location waypoints on the way to the origin.
2) The specific transit provider or link at each waypoint in the journey of the packet all the way from the source to the destination.
To analogize this to Waze, Argo giving directions without transit selection is like telling someone to drive to a waypoint (go to New York from San Francisco, passing through Salt Lake City), without specifying the roads to actually take to Salt Lake City or New York. With transit selection, we’re able to give full turn-by-turn directions — take I-80 out of San Francisco, take a left here, enter the Salt Lake City area using SR-201 (because I-80 is congested around SLC), etc. This allows us to route around issues on the Internet with much greater precision.