Network performance update: Security Week

Almost a year ago, we shared extensive benchmarking results of last mile networks all around the world. The results showed that on a range of tests (TCP connection time, time to first byte, time to last byte), and on different measures (p95, mean), Cloudflare was the fastest provider in 49% of networks around the world. Since then, we’ve worked to continuously improve performance towards the ultimate goal of being the fastest everywhere. We set a goal to grow the number of networks where we’re the fastest by 10% every Innovation Week. We met that goal last year, and we’re carrying the work over to 2022.

Today, we’re proud to report we are the fastest provider in 71% of the top 1,000 most reported networks around the world. Of course, we’re not done yet, but we wanted to share the latest results and explain how we did it.

Measuring what matters

To quantify network performance, we have to get enough data from around the world, across all manner of different networks, comparing ourselves with other providers. We used Real User Measurements (RUM) to fetch a 100kb file from several different providers. Users around the world report the performance of different providers. The more users who report the data, the higher fidelity the signal is. The goal is to provide an accurate picture of where different providers are faster, and more importantly, where Cloudflare can improve. You can read more about the methodology in the original Speed Week blog post here.

In the process of quantifying network performance, it became clear where we were not the fastest everywhere. After Full Stack Week, we found 596 country/network pairs where we were more than 100ms behind the leading provider (where a country/network pair is defined as the performance of a network within a particular country).

We are constantly going through the process of figuring out why we were slow — and then improving. The challenges we faced were unique to each network and highlighted a variety of different issues that are prevalent on the Internet. We’re going to deep dive into a couple of networks, and show how we diagnosed and then improved performance.

But before we do, here are the results of our efforts since Full Stack Week.

*Performance is defined by p95 TCP connection time across top 1,000 networks in the world by number of IPv4 addresses advertised

*Performance is defined by p95 TCP connection time across top 1,000 networks in the world by number of IPv4 addresses advertised

Curing congestion in Canada

In the spirit of Security Week, we want to highlight how a Magic Transit (Cloudflare’s network layer DDoS security) customer’s network problems provided line of sight into their internal congestion issues, and how our network was able to mitigate the problem in the short term.

One Magic Transit customer saw congestion in Canada due to insufficient peering with the Internet at key interconnection points. Congestion for customers means bad performance for users: for games, it can lead to lag and jittery gameplay, for video streaming, it can lead to buffering and poor resolution, and for video/VoIP applications, it can lead to calls dropping, garbled video/voice, and sections of calls missing entirely. Fixing congestion in this case means improving the way this customer connects to the rest of the Internet to make the user experience better for both the customer and users.

When customers connect to the Internet, they can do so in several ways: through an ISP that connects to other networks, through an Internet Exchange which houses many different providers interconnecting at a singular point, or point-to-point connections with other providers.

In the case of this customer, they had direct connections to other providers and to Internet exchanges. They ran out of bandwidth with their point-to-point connections, meaning that they had too much traffic for the size of the links they had bought, which meant that the excess traffic had to go over Internet Exchanges that were out of the way, creating suboptimal network paths which increased latency.

We were able to use our network to help solve this problem. In the short term, we spread the traffic away from the congestion points. This removed hairpins to immediately improve the user experience. This restored service for this customer and all of their users.

Then, we went into action by accelerating previously planned upgrades of all of our Internet Exchange (IX) ports across Canada to ensure that we had enough capacity to handle them, even though the congestion wasn’t happening on our network. Finally, we reached out to the customer’s provider and quickly set up direct peering with them in Canada to provide direct interconnection close to the customer, so that we could provide them with a much better Internet experience. These actions made us the fastest provider on networks in Canada as well.

Keeping traffic in Australia

Next, we turn to a network that had poor performance in Australia. Users for that network were going all the way out of the country before going to Cloudflare. This created what is called a network hairpin. A network hairpin is caused by suboptimal connectivity in certain locations, which can cause users to traverse a network path that takes longer than it should. This hairpin effect made Cloudflare one of the slower providers for this network in Australia.

To fix this, Cloudflare set up peering with this network in Sydney, and this allowed traffic from this network to go to Cloudflare within the country the network was based in. This reduced our connection time from 65ms to 45ms, catapulting us to be the #1 provider for this network in the region.

Update on Full Stack Week

All of this work and more has helped us optimize our network even further. At Full Stack Week, we announced that we were faster in more of the most reported networks than our competitors.  Out of the top 1,000 networks in the world (by number of IPv4 addresses advertised), here’s a breakdown of how many providers are number 1 in p95 TCP Connection Time, which represents the time it takes for a user to connect to the provider.  This data is from Full Stack Week (November 2021):

As of Security Week, we improved our position to be faster in 19 new networks:

Cloudflare is also committed to being the fastest provider in every country. This is a world map using the data that was to show the countries with the fastest network provider during Full Stack Week (November 2021):

Here’s how the map of the world looks during Security Week (March 2022):

We moved to number 1 in all of South America, more countries in Africa, the UK, Sweden, Iceland, and also more countries in the Asia Pacific region.

A fast network means fast security products

Cloudflare’s commitment to building the fastest network allows us to deliver unparalleled performance for all applications, including our security applications. There’s an adage in the industry that you have to sacrifice performance for security, but Cloudflare believes that you should be able to have your security and performance without having to sacrifice either. We’ve unveiled a ton of awesome new products and features for Security Week and all of them are built on top of our lightning-fast network. That means that all of these products will continue to get faster as we relentlessly pursue our goal of being the fastest network everywhere.