To further its plan of making the Web ever faster, CloudFlare has signed a deal with GlobalSign to shave a couple hundred milliseconds off the loading time of every page that pings the company to authenticate its SSL certificate. In plain English: a chunk of the Web just got a lot faster.
The nitty-gritty of how SSL works would take too long to properly explain and, frankly, I find that once a reader hits an initialism that they aren’t familiar with their eyes glaze over until they reach the next joke or bit of drama. So rather than trying to navigate the murky waters of technicality, we’re going to (briefly) chat about things you can actually see.
Ever notice that, every once in a while, the “http” in your browser’s address bar becomes “https”? This often pops up on sites that you don’t want other companies or people getting access to, like a banking site or, on the other end of the spectrum, Twitter or Facebook. HTTPS tells you that the site you’re browsing is safe.
Every time your browser checks to see if a site has an SSL certificate – the thing (or, at least, one of the things) that companies like GlobalSign provide as proof of security – it can add somewhere in the vicinity of 500 milliseconds to the time it takes a page to load. Users get the bonus security, but they also get another half-a-second (gasp!) of waiting time as well.
According to CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince, this is a serious problem. Citing a study (which, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to be available online) on Amazon’s loading times, Prince says that every extra 100 milliseconds of waiting can result in a 2 percent loss in users. So with the time it takes to get that SSL certificate authenticated, as many as 10 percent of users will call it quits.
Now, through its partnership with GlobalSign, CloudFlare is claiming it can shave some 400 milliseconds off of that loading time. The result, as mentioned before, is that anyone who does business with GlobalSign will see their Web pages load dramatically (relatively) faster.
The most interesting aspect of this deal isn’t necessarily that CloudFlare is making Web pages load faster “hundreds of millions of times per month,” as the company’s release puts it. That’s exactly what the company is supposed to do. Rather, it’s making these pages load faster without any input from site owners, providing direct benefits without incurring direct costs.
This won’t be limited to GlobalSign customers, either. Prince says that CloudFlare is currently in talks with other SSL certificate providers to make similar deals, which could continue to extend CloudFlare’s reach. If the company continues to make these kinds of deals it could provide the infrastructure for large swaths of the Web with almost nobody knowing.
Not that that matters. The company reportedly handles 70 billion pageviews each month – more than Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Instagram, the other $1 billion darling, combined. Users, and now website owners, might not know it’s there, but CloudFlare has become a big player in the Web, with the (rumored) $1 billion valuation to match. Today’s announcement is simply helping Prince and company build its empire.