DiscoverScreaming in the CloudHow Cloudflare is Working to Fix the Internet with Matthew Prince
How Cloudflare is Working to Fix the Internet with Matthew Prince

How Cloudflare is Working to Fix the Internet with Matthew Prince

Update: 2023-08-10


Matthew Prince, Co-founder & CEO at Cloudflare, joins Corey on Screaming in the Cloud to discuss how and why Cloudflare is working to solve some of the Internet’s biggest problems. Matthew reveals some of his biggest issues with cloud providers, including the tendency to charge more for egress than ingress and the fact that the various clouds don’t compete on a feature vs. feature basis. Corey and Matthew also discuss how Cloudflare is working to change those issues so the Internet is a better and more secure place. Matthew also discusses how transparency has been key to winning trust in the community and among Cloudflare’s customers, and how he hopes the Internet and cloud providers will evolve over time.

About Matthew

Matthew Prince is co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare. Cloudflare’s mission is to help build a better Internet. Today the company runs one of the world's largest networks, which spans more than 200 cities in over 100 countries. Matthew is a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, winner of the 2011 Tech Fellow Award, and serves on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law. Matthew holds an MBA from Harvard Business School where he was a George F. Baker Scholar and awarded the Dubilier Prize for Entrepreneurship. He is a member of the Illinois Bar, and earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago and B.A. in English Literature and Computer Science from Trinity College. He’s also the co-creator of Project Honey Pot, the largest community of webmasters tracking online fraud and abuse.

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Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.

Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. One of the things we talk about here, an awful lot is cloud providers. There sure are a lot of them, and there’s the usual suspects that you would tend to expect with to come up, and there are companies that work within their ecosystem. And then there are the enigmas.

Today, I’m talking to returning guest Matthew Prince, Cloudflare CEO and co-founder, who… well first, welcome back, Matthew. I appreciate your taking the time to come and suffer the slings and arrows a second time.

Matthew: Corey, thanks for having me.

Corey: What I’m trying to do at the moment is figure out where Cloudflare lives in the context of the broad ecosystem because you folks have released an awful lot. You had this vaporware-style announcement of R2, which was an S3 competitor, that then turned out to be real. And oh, it’s always interesting, when vapor congeals into something that actually exists. Cloudflare Workers have been around for a while and I find that they become more capable every time I turn around. You have Cloudflare Tunnel which, to my understanding, is effectively a VPN without the VPN overhead. And it feels that you are coming at building a cloud provider almost from the other side than the traditional cloud provider path. Is it accurate? Am I missing something obvious? How do you see yourselves?

Matthew: Hey, you know, I think that, you know, you can often tell a lot about a company by what they measure and what they measure themselves by. And so, if you’re at a traditional, you know, hyperscale public cloud, an AWS or a Microsoft Azure or a Google Cloud, the key KPI that they focus on is how much of a customer’s data are they hoarding, effectively? They’re all hoarding clouds, fundamentally. Whereas at Cloudflare, we focus on something of it’s very different, which is, how effectively are we moving a customer’s data from one place to another? And so, while the traditional hyperscale public clouds are all focused on keeping your data and making sure that they have as much of it, what we’re really focused on is how do we make sure your data is wherever you need it to be and how do we connect all of the various things together?

So, I think it’s exactly right, where we start with a network and are kind of building more functions on top of that network, whereas other companies start really with a database—the traditional hyperscale public clouds—and the network is sort of an afterthought on top of it, just you know, a cost center on what they’re delivering. And I think that describes a lot of the difference between us and everyone else. And so oftentimes, we work very much in conjunction with. A lot of our customers use hyperscale public clouds and Cloudflare, but increasingly, there are certain applications, there’s certain data that just makes sense to live inside the network itself, and in those cases, customers are using things like R2, they’re using our Workers platform in order to be able to build applications that will be available everywhere around the world and incredibly performant. And I think that is fundamentally the difference. We’re all about moving data between places, making sure it’s available everywhere, whereas the traditional hyperscale public clouds are all about hoarding that data in one place.

Corey: I want to clarify that when you say hoard, I think of this, from my position as a cloud economist, as effectively in an economic story where hoarding the data, they get to charge you for hosting it, they get to charge you serious prices for egress. I’ve had people mishear that before in a variety of ways, usually distilled down to, “Oh, and their data mining all of their customers’ data.” And I want to make sure that that’s not the direction that you intend the term to be used. If it is, then great, we can talk about that, too. I just want to make sure that I don’t get letters because God forbid we get letters for things that we say in the public.

Matthew: No, I mean, I had an aunt who was a hoarder and she collected every piece of everything and stored it somewhere in her tiny little apartment in the panhandle of Florida. I don’t think she looked at any of it and for the most part, I don’t think that AWS or Google or Microsoft are really using your data in any way that’s nefarious, but they’re definitely not going to make it easy for you to get it out of those places; they’re going to make it very, very expensive. And again, what they’re measuring is how much of a customer’s data are they holding onto whereas at Cloudflare we’re measuring how much can we enable you to move your data around and connected wherever you need it. And again, I think that that kind of gets to the fundamental difference between how we think of the world and how I think the hyperscale public clouds thing of the world. And it also gets to where are the places where it makes sense to use Cloudflare, and where are the places that it makes sense to use an AWS or Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure.

Corey: So, I have to ask, and this gets into the origin story trope a bit, but what radicalized you? For me, it was the realization one day that I could download two terabytes of data from S3 once, and it would cost significantly more than having ship me a two-terabyte hard drive from their store.

Matthew: I think that—so Cloudflare started with the basic idea that the internet’s not as good as it should be. If we all knew what the internet was going to be used for and what we’re all going to depend on it for, we would have made very different decisions in how it was designed. And we would have made sure that security was built in from day one, we would have—you know, the internet is very reliable and available, but there are now airplanes that can’t land if the internet goes offline, they are shopping transactions shut down if the internet goes offline. And so, I don’t think we understood—we made it available to some extent, but not nearly to the level that we all now depend on it. And it wasn’t as fast or as efficient as it possibly could be. It’s still very dependent on the geography of where data is located.

And so, Cloudflare started out by saying, “Can we fix that? Can we go back and effectively patch the internet and make it what it should have been when we set down the original protocols in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s?” But can we go back and say, can we build a new, sort of, overlay on the internet that solves those problems: make it more secure, make it more reliable, make it faster and more efficient? And so, I think that that’s where we started, and as a result of, again, starting from that place, it just made fundamental sense that our job was, how do you move data from one place to another and do it in all of those ways? And so, where I think that, again, the hyperscale public clouds measure themselves by how much of a customer’s data are they hoarding; we measure ourselves by how easy are we making it to securely, reliably, and efficiently move any piece of data from one place to another.

And so, I guess, that is radical compared to some of the business models of the traditional cloud providers, but it just seems like what the internet should be. And that’s our North Star and that’s what just continues to drive us and I think is a big reason why more and more customers continue to rely on

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How Cloudflare is Working to Fix the Internet with Matthew Prince

How Cloudflare is Working to Fix the Internet with Matthew Prince

Corey Quinn