Having long charged customers just $20 a month for protection from hackers and DNS attacks — plus a boost in Web performance — CloudFlare is finally all grown up. Today it is releasing its business and enterprise services, charging $200 a month and $3,000 a month, respectively.
Why now? Because the service is finally smart enough. CloudFlare has spent 18 months thwarting hacks and attacks on sites in its network, and each time it does, that network becomes smarter.
A good illustration for this is how CloudFlare’s business took off in Turkey. CEO Matthew Prince noticed that a flurry of Turkish escort services were signing up for CloudFlare. He called one of the sites concerned and asked why. It turns out that while the Turkish government is pretty tolerant of escort sites, much of the actual population isn’t. Hackers constantly try to take them down. One site found out about CloudFlare, tried it, and found it was the first thing that worked. Word spread. And it spread beyond just escort sites, too. Soon, Turkish ecommerce sites started signing up. Then media sites. Then political parties. Last year, the official election site for the Turkish government ran CloudFlare.
The benefit wasn’t just word of mouth. CloudFlare was able to learn from the types of threats attacking the escort services, and that made the company smart enough to protect the official election site. Those tiny escort sites don’t pay much, but official government sites do. “When it is high noon in Bangalore and Reliance Telecom is getting significant packet loss, we know how we can adjust algorithms for their network to make sure your site is still fast,” Prince says. “That only comes through scale.”
Its success in Turkey is a microcosm of how CloudFlare has always sought to build its business and now with 50 billion page views per month coursing through the company’s proxies, it’s ready to take that step. Prince calls it the biggest step for the company since its debut at TechCrunch Disrupt.
Several companies have been using the business and enterprise accounts as beta users, but one customer in particular gives Prince confidence that CloudFlare can protect nearly anyone: 4Chan.
Prince first met 4Chan creator Chris Poole at a conference last year, and he went up to talk to him afterwards. CloudFlare had been the subject of all sorts of nasty attacks, because it was a favorite protection service of hackers, and hackers like to take each other down. The only site that gets more of that is 4Chan.
Prince told Poole that he almost wanted to hug him. “I think you’re the only person on earth who has gone through more crap than we have,” he said. “You have seen everything.” Poole was nonplussed.
Half a year later, on November 16, Poole emailed Prince and asked if he was still doing that “CloudFlare thing.” He was on a flight from San Francisco to New York, and the site was coming under a DNS attack that even they couldn’t withstand. Over Gchat, Prince explained how CloudFlare worked, and Poole said he wanted to use it. He set it up from the plane, and instantly the site came back online. They’ve been a customer ever since. “What I love about that story is that we can even help the most technically sophisticated person, and the service is simple enough you can set it up on a flight,” Prince says.
CloudFlare has always been a pretty mission-driven site that wants to make the Internet a safer, better place. But after his personal and business accounts were hacked — ironically, in an attempt to hijack 4Chan — Prince feels that mission more acutely than ever. “It’s crazy that you go to sleep thinking everything is fine, and meanwhile a whole group of people were actually plotting to hurt you.”