We launched Argo in 2017 to improve performance on the Internet. 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.

Without any complicated configuration, Argo is able to use real-time traffic data to pick the fastest path across the Internet, improving performance and delivering more satisfying experiences to your customers and users.

Today, Cloudflare is announcing several upgrades to Argo’s intelligent routing:

  • When it launched, Argo was entirely focused on the “middle mile,” speeding up connections from Cloudflare to our customers’ servers. Argo now delivers optimal routes from clients and users to Cloudflare, further reducing end-to-end latency while still providing the impressive edge to origin performance that Argo is known for. These last-mile improvements reduce end user round trip times by up to 40%.
  • We’re also adding support for accelerating pure IP workloads, allowing Magic Transit and Magic WAN customers to build IP networks to enjoy the performance benefits of Argo.

Starting today, all Free, Pro, and Business plan Argo customers will see improved performance with no additional configuration or charge. Enterprise customers have already enjoyed the last mile performance improvements described here for some time. Magic Transit and WAN customers can contact their account team to request Early Access to Argo Smart Routing for Packets.

What’s Argo?

Argo finds the best and fastest possible path for your traffic on 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 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.

Even More Blazing Fast

We’ve continuously improved Argo since the day it was launched, making it faster, quicker to respond to changes on the Internet, and allowing more types of traffic to flow over smart routes.

Argo’s new performance optimizations improve last mile latencies and reduce time to first byte even further. Argo’s last mile optimizations can save up to 40% on last mile round trip time (RTT) with commensurate improvements to end-to-end latency.

Running benchmarks against an origin server in the central United States, with visitors coming from around the world, Argo delivered the following results:

The Argo improvements on the last mile reduced overall time to first byte by 39%, and reduced end-to-end latencies by 5% overall:

Faster, better caching

Argo customers don’t just see benefits to their dynamic traffic. Argo’s new found skills provide benefits for static traffic as well. Because Argo now finds the best path to Cloudflare, client TTFB for cache hits sees the same last mile benefit as dynamic traffic.

Getting access to faster Argo

The best part about all these improvements? They’re already deployed and enabled for all Argo customers! These optimizations have been live for Enterprise customers for some time and were enabled for Free, Pro, and Business plans this week.

Moving Down the Stack: Argo Smart Routing for Packets

Customers use Magic Transit and Magic WAN to create their own IP networks on top of Cloudflare’s network, with access to a full suite of network functions (firewalls, DDoS mitigation, and more) delivered as a service. This allows customers to build secure, private, global networks without the need to purchase specialized hardware. Now, Argo Smart Routing for Packets allows these customers to create these IP networks with the performance benefits of Argo.

Consider a fictional gaming company, Golden Fleece Games. Golden Fleece deployed Magic Transit to mitigate attacks by malicious actors on the Internet. They want to be able to provide a quality game to their users while staying up. However, they also need their service to be as fast as possible. If their game sees additional latency, then users won’t play it, and even if their service is technically up, the increased latency will show a decrease in users. For Golden Fleece, being slow is just as bad as being down.

Finance customers also have similar requirements for low latency, high security scenarios. Consider Jason Financial, a fictional Magic Transit customer using Packet Smart Routing. Jason Financial employees connect to Cloudflare in New York, and their requests are routed to their data center which is connected to Cloudflare through a Cloudflare Network Interconnect attached to Cloudflare in Singapore. For Jason Financial, reducing latency is extraordinarily important: if their network is slow, then the latency penalties they incur can literally cost them millions of dollars due to how fast the stock market moves. Jason wants Magic Transit and other Cloudflare One products to secure their network and prevent attacks, but improving performance is important for them as well.

Argo’s Smart Routing for Packets provides these customers with the security they need at speeds faster than before. Now, customers can get the best of both worlds: security and performance. Now, let’s talk a bit about how it works.

A bird’s eye view of the Internet

Argo Smart Routing for Packets picks the fastest possible path between two points. But how does Argo know that the chosen route is the fastest? As with all Argo products, the answer comes by analyzing a wealth of network data already available on the Cloudflare edge. In Argo for HTTP or Argo for TCP, Cloudflare is able to use existing timing data from traffic that’s already being sent over our edge to optimize routes. This allows us to improve which paths are taken as traffic changes and congestion on the Internet happens. However, to build Smart Routing for Packets, the game changed, and we needed to develop a new approach to collect latency data at the IP layer.

Let’s go back to the Jason Financial case. Before, Argo would understand that the number of paths that are available from Cloudflare’s data centers back to Jason’s data center is proportional to the number of data centers Cloudflare has multiplied by the number of distinct interconnections between each data center. By looking at the traffic to Singapore, Cloudflare can use existing Layer 4 traffic and network analytics to determine the best path. But Layer 4 is not Layer 3, and when you move down the stack, you lose some insight into things like round trip time (RTT), and other metrics that compose time to first byte because that data is only produced at higher levels of the application stack. It can become harder to figure out what the best path actually is.

Optimizing performance at the IP layer can be more difficult than at higher layers. This is because protocol and application layers have additional headers and stateful protocols that allow for further optimization. For example, connection reuse is a performance improvement that can only be realized at higher layers of the stack because HTTP requests can reuse existing TCP connections. IP layers don’t have the concept of connections or requests at all: it’s just packets flowing over the wire.

To help bridge the gap, Cloudflare makes use of an existing data source that already exists for every Magic Transit customer today: health check probes. Every Magic Transit customer leverages existing health check probes from every single Cloudflare data center back to the customer origin. These probes are used to determine tunnel health for Magic Transit, so that Cloudflare knows which paths back to origin are healthy. These probes contain a variety of information that can also be used to improve performance as well. By examining health check probes and adding them to existing Layer 4 data, Cloudflare can get a better understanding of one-way latencies and can construct a map that allows us to see all the interconnected data centers and how fast they are to each other. Once this customer gets a Cloudflare Network Interconnect, Argo can use the data center-to-data center probes to create an alternate path for the customer that’s different from the public Internet.

Using this map, Cloudflare can construct dynamic routes for each customer based on where their traffic enters Cloudflare’s network and where they need to go. This allows us to find the optimal route for Jason Financial and allows us to always pick the fastest path.

Packet-Level Latency Reductions

We’ve kind of buried the lede here! We’ve talked about how hard it is to optimize performance for IP traffic. The important bit: despite all these difficulties, Argo Smart Routing for Packets is able to provide a 10% average latency improvement worldwide in our internal testing!

Depending on your network topology, you may see latency reductions that are even higher!

How do I get Argo Smart Routing for Packets?

Argo Smart Routing for Packets is in closed beta and is available only for Magic Transit customers who have a Cloudflare Network Interconnect provisioned. If you are a Magic Transit customer interested in seeing the improved performance of Argo Smart Routing for Packets for yourself, reach out to your account team today! If you don’t have Magic Transit but want to take advantage of bigger performance gains while acquiring uncompromised levels of network security, begin your Magic Transit onboarding process today!

What’s next for Argo

Argo’s roadmap is simple: get ever faster, for any type of traffic.

Argo’s recent optimizations will help customers move data across the Internet at as close to the speed of light as possible. Internally, “how fast are we compared to the speed of light” is one of our engineering team’s key success metrics. We’re not done until we’re even.

Watch on Cloudflare TV