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Bandwidth Alliance: powered by smart routing on Cloudflare’s network


3 min read

Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of the Bandwidth Alliance, a group of cloud providers that have agreed to reduce data transfer fees for mutual customers.

Three things were required to make the Bandwidth Alliance a reality:

  1. An ecosystem of like-minded companies who want to provide reduced data transfer fees to their customers.
  2. A large global and well-connected network (Cloudflare has 150+ points of presence around the world and multiple peered and paid links at each location). Our network is connected to thousands of partners through transit providers, Internet exchanges, peering interconnects, and private network interconnects. Having a large network footprint allows us to meet our partners where their infrastructure is and exchange traffic with them over low-cost or free connections, instead of expensive paid transit.
  3. Argo, our sophisticated traffic routing engine. Argo allows us to make decisions on how to carry traffic across our network in ways that optimize for a number of factors: latency, throughput, jitter, or in the case of the Bandwidth Alliance, cost to our partners to exchange traffic. This routing engine is the technical underpinning of the Bandwidth Alliance.

Typically, as traffic moves across the Internet, packets are exchanged between multiple networks as they move from origin to destination. The specific path taken is determined by routers along the way using Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). BGP allows routers to learn which networks have connectivity to which other networks and to pick optimal paths across those. Notably, “optimal path” in this case refers to the path with the fewest number of network hops to the destination, not the best performance or lowest monetary cost for any party involved.

Cloudflare is directly connected and peered with thousands of different networks, including all of our Bandwidth Alliance partners. Moving traffic over one of these links is very fast and very cheap, especially compared to moving the same traffic over public transit. However, because BGP and standard path discovery techniques are not built to directly understand either real world performance or monetary cost, moving traffic from Cloudflare to our Bandwidth Alliance partners and back may not actually use these fast, cheap links between us and them.

Argo: Cloudflare’s Intelligent Network

This is where Argo comes in. We can plug different routing functions into Argo, optimizing for connection parameters other than the default heuristics BGP users.

Argo consists of two logical components:

  1. A control plane, that mines our network performance data and understands our network topology in order to generate good routes across the globe.
  2. A data plane, that takes that routing information and makes sure data flowing across our network actually takes those paths.

Argo’s control plane, in its standard configuration, optimizes connections for minimum latency. It does this by examining subnet-to-subnet timing data collected from requests that pass between those subnets, determining which paths are fastest. The list of subnets examined is determined by looking at global routing tables; each entry in the table is a logically and physically grouped set of hosts. Argo then determines where on our network traffic destined for a given subnet should exit our network.

Full Argo is a paid service that Cloudflare customers can subscribe to. For the customers hosted on providers that are part of the Bandwidth Alliance, Cloudflare automatically enables a limited, routing-only version of Argo at no additional charge. While this does not get all the benefits of Argo's full performance feature set, it does ensure that traffic is routed to the Cloudflare location nearest where our customer is hosted so traffic can pass across a Private Network Interface (PNI) and therefore enjoy substantially lowered bandwidth costs. Customers who choose to subscribe to full-featured Argo get additional performance benefits from optimized route selection, data compression, tiered caching, and protocol optimization.

The end result of all this: low latency, highly available transit across our network from your host to your user, and all at little to no cost to Cloudflare or your cloud provider — and, in turn, a substantially reduced cost to you. We expect that as the Bandwidth Alliance comes online, Cloudflare customers could save more than $50 million per year in cloud bandwidth fees.

Our commitment through the Bandwidth Alliance is to pass those cost savings on to you, our mutual customers. Today, we’re excited to put the benefits in your hands: smaller bills and better performance.

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Rustam Lalkaka|@lalkaka

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