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CloudFlare—WebOps for everyone

by John Graham-Cumming.

No matter whether you run a personal blog or the IT operation of a corporate enterprise, you have discovered that in addition to running a web site, and updating its content or application, a web site comes with difficult operational challenges. CloudFlare handles these WebOps challenges with a simple, five minute change to a web site's settings.

CloudFlare—WebOps for everyone
From Flickr user flightlog

CloudFlare's WebOps-as-a-service covers five main areas: Security, Metrics, Acceleration, Reach and Transformation (SMART). With CloudFlare, every website owner (from the smallest to the largest) gains access to the tools that have been reserved for the largest web sites in the world.

Security

Web sites are constantly attacked by hackers from around the world. Some look to turn a web site into a command-and-control server for a network of malicious bots, or to use a site to host a fake bank for phishing, steal sensitive private information (such as credit card information), or host malware. Attackers can range from organized criminal groups that use the threat of attacks to extort money to simple vandals.

What is worse is that attacks are a never ending battle. Everything from the operating system of the server hosting a web site to each individual fragment of code (such as blogging software) is a potential attack point, and must be constantly updated and fortified to evade the latest threats. This creates an enormous management burden for a web site owner and requires expertise that few possess outside of the world's largest web sites.

Because of CloudFlare's global reach and traffic we are able to automatically block attacks as they occur, and instantaneously roll out patches that prevent newly discovered vulnerabilities from ever exposing your servers to attack.

Additionally, CloudFlare's global network means that Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS) can be controlled and absorbed before they ever reach your server. Web sites around the world rely on CloudFlare for DDoS protection precisely because it is so difficult: effective DDoS protection requires an intimate knowledge of the operation of the Internet and a 24/7 operations team on hand to deal with attacks as they emerge.

Many web site owners also find that SSL encryption is necessary to ensure that connections to their web site are encrypted, and their visitors protected. But SSL is complex to set up and requires specialist knowledge. CloudFlare's SSL service enables web sites to be SSL-enabled with a single click.

Finally, for publishers, CloudFlare's ScrapeShield app automatically protects valuable content against automated scraping tools and tracks content that is stolen.

Metrics

Every web site owner knows that metrics are critical to track who visits your site, which pages or content are popular and how visitors come to find your site to begin with. CloudFlare makes it trivial to enable any number of metrics services with single click deployment of the service on to every one of your pages, and provides its own metrics service with highly accurate data as an additional complement.

For example, adding Google Analytics or Clicky to a CloudFlare site is a simple one click operation. No need to change the code yourself; CloudFlare automatically inserts the JavaScript necessary and within seconds metrics start to be collected.

CloudFlare also collects and makes available its own highly accurate metrics. Because CloudFlare sees every page view and hit for each web site it is able to provide 100% accurate metrics based on the actual visits made by visitors to your web site.

CloudFlare does not rely on JavaScript inserted into a page to track metrics unlike other common metrics tools. Rather, CloudFlare sees and reports on every page request even from visitors that deliberately block JavaScript or tracking tools. CloudFlare is also able to report on malicious traffic (in the form of hackers and bots) as it sees, blocks and records those visits as well.

Acceleration

Study after study has shown that web site speed is directly linked to revenue and visitor satisfaction. Even a tiny millisecond delay in the load time of a web page causes people to leave a site (and, perhaps, never come back) which means lost engagement and revenue. Page speed is also taken into account by large search engines when deciding on how highly to rank a page, and therefore can play a significant part in you search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

CloudFlare's content acceleration and caching services mean that web sites using CloudFlare see automatic acceleration of their web site just by signing up. CloudFlare automatically caches content so that it can be delivered quickly to a site's visitors around the world, and optimizes content that can't be cached so that it is delivered as fast as possible. On average, our customers' web sites load 2X as fast after signing up for the service.

CloudFlare also has a collection of available acceleration tools that can be enabled with one click. These tools perform content optimization, such as minimization of image sizes, minification of JavaScript, loading JavaScript asynchronously and preloading parts of a page, further improving page load times.

Not only does CloudFlare cache and optimize your content, it also reduces the bandwidth used by your web server. This means that your web site saves money on bandwidth while at the same time improving performance for your visitors.

Reach

CloudFlare operates data centers around the world and uses an Anycast network that directs a web site's visitors to the server nearest to them. After signing up for CloudFlare, your web site will have instant global reach---within five minutes of signing up with CloudFlare a web site is distributed around the world and visitors from every corner of the globe see an instant performance upgrade.

CloudFlare's global network also means that Internet outages around the world do not affect your web site. Our team constantly monitors data center and Internet performance to ensure that the best route is taken for every individual visitor to your site ensuring that visitors, wherever they are, experience fast and always available web sites.

Additional CloudFlare services keep a web site online even when the actual web server is down and perform geolocation so that web servers can instantly understand where visitors come from.

CloudFlare can also automatically enable IPv6 on any web site so that visitors from the newest reaches of the Internet can visit web sites that continue to use the older IPv4 protocol—all with the click of a single button in the CloudFlare management UI.

Transformation

As traffic from a web site protected and accelerated by CloudFlare passes through CloudFlare's servers it is transformed. Some transformations target security (such as filtering out bad requests) and others performance (such as optimizing JavaScript).

But CloudFlare's available transformations go a step further: CloudFlare is able to modify your web site's pages automatically. For example, turning on a service like Google Analytics can be achieved in a single click in CloudFlare's management interface. Once enabled CloudFlare will automatically insert the appropriate JavaScript in every page. There is no need for you or your staff to make any changes to the web site itself.

CloudFlare can also protect sensitive content from potentially malicious users. For example, email addresses can be automatically detected and obfuscated so that humans can read them but machines can't (helping to cut down on spam). A "Server Side Exclude" feature allows a web site owner to mark content so that it is hidden from suspicious visitors (such as potential bots scraping content).

Another transformation provides automatic hotlink protection for images so that valuable bandwidth isn't taken by third-party web sites that embed images directly from a CloudFlare protected site.

CloudFlare can automatically minify HTML, JavaScript and CSS to make it smaller and load faster, and CloudFlare's ScrapeShield app can insert tracking beacons on your web sites to detect and track content theft.

As new devices proliferate (such as tablets or smartphones) CloudFlare's transformation features reformat a web page for optimal viewing on those devices, automatically. What's best is that every single transformation requires nothing more than signing up for CloudFlare's SMART webops service.

Summary

CloudFlare is a 24/7 WebOps team for any web site, no matter the size. It provides security, metrics, acceleration, reach and transformation with minimal change. And as CloudFlare enhances its services, all web sites using CloudFlare receive the benefit, automatically. CloudFlare's customers range from individual bloggers to Fortune 100 corporations, and even national governments.

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