Today we’re excited to announce Cloudflare Magic Transit. Magic Transit provides secure, performant, and reliable IP connectivity to the Internet. Out-of-the-box, Magic Transit deployed in front of your on-premise network protects it from DDoS attack and enables provisioning of a full suite of virtual network functions, including advanced packet filtering, load balancing, and traffic management tools.

Magic Transit is built on the standards and networking primitives you are familiar with, but delivered from Cloudflare’s global edge network as a service. Traffic is ingested by the Cloudflare Network with anycast and BGP, announcing your company’s IP address space and extending your network presence globally. Today, our anycast edge network spans 193 cities in more than 90 countries around the world.

Once packets hit our network, traffic is inspected for attacks, filtered, steered, accelerated, and sent onward to the origin. Magic Transit will connect back to your origin infrastructure over Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) tunnels, private network interconnects (PNI), or other forms of peering.

Enterprises are often forced to pick between performance and security when deploying IP network services. Magic Transit is designed from the ground up to minimize these trade-offs: performance and security are better together. Magic Transit deploys IP security services across our entire global network. This means no more diverting traffic to small numbers of distant “scrubbing centers” or relying on on-premise hardware to mitigate attacks on your infrastructure.

We’ve been laying the groundwork for Magic Transit for as long as Cloudflare has been in existence, since 2010. Scaling and securing the IP network Cloudflare is built on has required tooling that would have been impossible or exorbitantly expensive to buy. So we built the tools ourselves! We grew up in the age of software-defined networking and network function virtualization, and the principles behind these modern concepts run through everything we do.

When we talk to our customers managing on-premise networks, we consistently hear a few things: building and managing their networks is expensive and painful, and those on-premise networks aren’t going away anytime soon.

Traditionally, CIOs trying to connect their IP networks to the Internet do this in two steps:

  1. Source connectivity to the Internet from transit providers (ISPs).
  2. Purchase, operate, and maintain network function specific hardware appliances. Think hardware load balancers, firewalls, DDoS mitigation equipment, WAN optimization, and more.

Each of these boxes costs time and money to maintain, not to mention the skilled, expensive people required to properly run them. Each additional link in the chain makes a network harder to manage.

This all sounded familiar to us. We had an aha! moment: we had the same issues managing our datacenter networks that power all of our products, and we had spent significant time and effort building solutions to those problems. Now, nine years later, we had a robust set of tools we could turn into products for our own customers.

Magic Transit aims to bring the traditional datacenter hardware model into the cloud, packaging transit with all the network “hardware” you might need to keep your network fast, reliable, and secure. Once deployed, Magic Transit allows seamless provisioning of virtualized network functions, including routing, DDoS mitigation, firewalling, load balancing, and traffic acceleration services.

Magic Transit is your network’s on-ramp to the Internet

Magic Transit delivers its connectivity, security, and performance benefits by serving as the “front door” to your IP network. This means it accepts IP packets destined for your network, processes them, and then outputs them to your origin infrastructure.

Connecting to the Internet via Cloudflare offers numerous benefits. Starting with the most basic, Cloudflare is one of the most extensively connected networks on the Internet. We work with carriers, Internet exchanges, and peering partners around the world to ensure that a bit placed on our network will reach its destination quickly and reliably, no matter the destination.

An example deployment: Acme Corp

Let’s walk through how a customer might deploy Magic Transit. Customer Acme Corp. owns the IP prefix 203.0.113.0/24, which they use to address a rack of hardware they run in their own physical datacenter. Acme currently announces routes to the Internet from their customer-premise equipment (CPE, aka a router at the perimeter of their datacenter), telling the world 203.0.113.0/24 is reachable from their autonomous system number, AS64512. Acme has DDoS mitigation and firewall hardware appliances on-premise.

Acme wants to connect to the Cloudflare Network to improve the security and performance of their own network. Specifically, they’ve been the target of distributed denial of service attacks, and want to sleep soundly at night without relying on on-premise hardware. This is where Cloudflare comes in.

Deploying Magic Transit in front of their network is simple:

  1. Cloudflare uses Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to announce Acme’s 203.0.113.0/24 prefix from Cloudflare’s edge, with Acme’s permission.
  2. Cloudflare begins ingesting packets destined for the Acme IP prefix.
  3. Magic Transit applies DDoS mitigation and firewall rules to the network traffic. After it is ingested by the Cloudflare network, traffic that would benefit from HTTPS caching and WAF inspection can be “upgraded” to our Layer 7 HTTPS pipeline without incurring additional network hops.
  4. Acme would like Cloudflare to use Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) to tunnel traffic back from the Cloudflare Network back to Acme’s datacenter. GRE tunnels are initiated from anycast endpoints back to Acme’s premise. Through the magic of anycast, the tunnels are constantly and simultaneously connected to hundreds of network locations, ensuring the tunnels are highly available and resilient to network failures that would bring down traditionally formed GRE tunnels.
  5. Cloudflare egresses packets bound for Acme over these GRE tunnels.

Let’s dive deeper on how the DDoS mitigation included in Magic Transit works.

Magic Transit protects networks from DDoS attack

Customers deploying Cloudflare Magic Transit instantly get access to the same IP-layer DDoS protection system that has protected the Cloudflare Network for the past 9 years. This is the same mitigation system that stopped a 942Gbps attack dead in its tracks, in seconds. This is the same mitigation system that knew how to stop memcached amplification attacks days before a 1.3Tbps attack took down Github, which did not have Cloudflare watching its back. This is the same mitigation we trust every day to protect Cloudflare, and now it protects your network.

Cloudflare has historically protected Layer 7 HTTP and HTTPS applications from attacks at all layers of the OSI Layer model. The DDoS protection our customers have come to know and love relies on a blend of techniques, but can be broken into a few complementary defenses:

  1. Anycast and a network presence in 193 cities around the world allows our network to get close to users and attackers, allowing us to soak up traffic close to the source without introducing significant latency.
  2. 30+Tbps of network capacity allows us to soak up a lot of traffic close to the source. Cloudflare's network has more capacity to stop DDoS attacks than that of Akamai Prolexic, Imperva, Neustar, and Radware — combined.
  3. Our HTTPS reverse proxy absorbs L3 (IP layer) and L4 (TCP layer) attacks by terminating connections and re-establishing them to the origin. This stops most spurious packet transmissions from ever getting close to a customer origin server.
  4. Layer 7 mitigations and rate limiting stop floods at the HTTPS application layer.

Looking at the above description carefully, you might notice something: our reverse proxy servers protect our customers by terminating connections, but our network and servers still get slammed by the L3 and 4 attacks we stop on behalf of our customers. How do we protect our own infrastructure from these attacks?

Enter Gatebot!

Gatebot is a suite of software running on every one of our servers inside each of our datacenters in the 193 cities we operate, constantly analyzing and blocking attack traffic. Part of Gatebot’s beauty is its simple architecture; it sits silently, in wait, sampling packets as they pass from the network card into the kernel and onward into userspace. Gatebot does not have a learning or warm-up period. As soon as it detects an attack, it instructs the kernel of the machine it is running on to drop the packet, log its decision, and move on.

Historically, if you wanted to protect your network from a DDoS attack, you might have purchased a specialized piece of hardware to sit at the perimeter of your network. This hardware box (let’s call it “The DDoS Protection Box”) would have been fantastically expensive, pretty to look at (as pretty as a 2U hardware box could get), and required a ton of recurring effort and money to stay on its feet, keep its licence up to date, and keep its attack detection system accurate and trained.

For one thing, it would have to be carefully monitored to make sure it was stopping attacks but not stopping legitimate traffic. For another, if an attacker managed to generate enough traffic to saturate your datacenter’s transit links to the Internet, you were out of luck; no box sitting inside your datacenter can protect you from an attack generating enough traffic to congest the links running from the outside world to the datacenter itself.

Early on, Cloudflare considered buying The DDoS Protection Box(es) to protect our various network locations, but ruled them out quickly. Buying hardware would have incurred substantial cost and complexity. In addition, buying, racking, and managing specialized pieces of hardware makes a network hard to scale. There had to be a better way. We set out to solve this problem ourselves, starting from first principles and modern technology.

To make our modern approach to DDoS mitigation work, we had to invent a suite of tools and techniques to allow us to do ultra-high performance networking on a generic x86 server running Linux.

At the core of our network data plane is the eXpress Data Path (XDP) and the extended Berkeley Packet Filter (eBPF), a set of APIs that allow us to build ultra-high performance networking applications in the Linux kernel. My colleagues have written extensively about how we use XDP and eBPF to stop DDoS attacks:

At the end of the day, we ended up with a DDoS mitigation system that:

  • Is delivered by our entire network, spread across 193 cities around the world. To put this another way, our network doesn’t have the concept of “scrubbing centers” — every single one of our network locations is always mitigating attacks, all the time. This means faster attack mitigation and minimal latency impact for your users.
  • Has exceptionally fast times to mitigate, with most attacks mitigated in 10s or less.
  • Was built in-house, giving us deep visibility into its behavior and the ability to rapidly develop new mitigations as we see new attack types.
  • Is deployed as a service, and is horizontally scalable. Adding x86 hardware running our DDoS mitigation software stack to a datacenter (or adding another network location) instantly brings more DDoS mitigation capacity online.

Gatebot is designed to protect Cloudflare infrastructure from attack. And today, as part of Magic Transit, customers operating their own IP networks and infrastructure can rely on Gatebot to protect their own network.

Magic Transit puts your network hardware in the cloud

We’ve covered how Cloudflare Magic Transit connects your network to the Internet, and how it protects you from DDoS attack. If you were running your network the old-fashioned way, this is where you’d stop to buy firewall hardware, and maybe another box to do load balancing.

With Magic Transit, you don’t need those boxes. We have a long track record of delivering common network functions (firewalls, load balancers, etc.) as services. Up until this point, customers deploying our services have relied on DNS to bring traffic to our edge, after which our Layer 3 (IP), Layer 4 (TCP & UDP), and Layer 7 (HTTP, HTTPS, and DNS) stacks take over and deliver performance and security to our customers.

Magic Transit is designed to handle your entire network, but does not enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to what services get applied to which portion of your traffic. To revisit Acme, our example customer from above, they have brought 203.0.113.0/24 to the Cloudflare Network. This represents 256 IPv4 addresses, some of which (eg 203.0.113.8/30) might front load balancers and HTTP servers, others mail servers, and others still custom UDP-based applications.

Each of these sub-ranges may have different security and traffic management requirements. Magic Transit allows you to configure specific IP addresses with their own suite of services, or apply the same configuration to large portions (or all) of your block.

Taking the above example, Acme may wish that the 203.0.113.8/30 block containing HTTP services fronted by a traditional hardware load balancer instead deploy the Cloudflare Load Balancer, and also wants HTTP traffic analyzed with Cloudflare’s WAF and content cached by our CDN. With Magic Transit, deploying these network functions is straight-forward — a few clicks in our dashboard or API calls will have your traffic handled at a higher layer of network abstraction, with all the attendant goodies applying application level load balancing, firewall, and caching logic bring.

This is just one example of a deployment customers might pursue. We’ve worked with several who just want pure IP passthrough, with DDoS mitigation applied to specific IP addresses. Want that? We got you!

Magic Transit runs on the entire Cloudflare Global Network. Or, no more scrubs!

When you connect your network to Cloudflare Magic Transit, you get access to the entire Cloudflare network. This means all of our network locations become your network locations. Our network capacity becomes your network capacity, at your disposal to power your experiences, deliver your content, and mitigate attacks on your infrastructure.

How expansive is the Cloudflare Network? We’re in 193 cities worldwide, with more than 30Tbps of network capacity spread across them. Cloudflare operates within 100 milliseconds of 98% of the Internet-connected population in the developed world, and 93% of the Internet-connected population globally (for context, the blink of an eye is 300-400 milliseconds).

Areas of the globe within 100 milliseconds of a Cloudflare datacenter.

Just as we built our own products in house, we also built our network in house. Every product runs in every datacenter, meaning our entire network delivers all of our services. This might not have been the case if we had assembled our product portfolio piecemeal through acquisition, or not had completeness of vision when we set out to build our current suite of services.

The end result for customers of Magic Transit: a network presence around the globe as soon you come on board. Full access to a diverse set of services worldwide. All delivered with latency and performance in mind.

We'll be sharing a lot more technical detail on how we deliver Magic Transit in the coming weeks and months.

Magic Transit lowers total cost of ownership

Traditional network services don’t come cheap; they require high capital outlays up front, investment in staff to operate, and ongoing maintenance contracts to stay functional. Just as our product aims to be disruptive technically, we want to disrupt traditional network cost-structures as well.

Magic Transit is delivered and billed as a service. You pay for what you use, and can add services at any time. Your team will thank you for its ease of management; your management will thank you for its ease of accounting. That sounds pretty good to us!

Magic Transit is available today

We’ve worked hard over the past nine years to get our network, management tools, and network functions as a service into the state they’re in today. We’re excited to get the tools we use every day in customers’ hands.

So that brings us to naming. When we showed this to customers the most common word they used was ‘whoa.’ When we pressed what they meant by that they almost all said: ‘It’s so much better than any solution we’ve seen before. It’s, like, magic!’ So it seems only natural, if a bit cheesy, that we call this product what it is: Magic Transit.

We think this is all pretty magical, and think you will too. Contact our Enterprise Sales Team today.