Cloudflare is a US-based technology company that provides content delivery network services to approximately 20% of the world's websites. Services include cloud security, DDoS protection, domain registration, and secure access service edge (SASE).
Founded by Matthew Prince and Lee Holloway in 2004, Cloudflare was created to help businesses improve their digital security with an initial focus on combatting spam emails.
Current CEO: Matthew Prince (pictured)
HQ: San Francisco
Annual revenue: $1.2 billion (2023)
Having previously collaborated on Project Honey Pot, an initiative designed to expose the techniques used in bulk mailing and email fraud, the duo used open-source applications and a group of beta testers to initially assess if the flexible architecture Holloway created could help web administrators identify malicious attacks on their sites.
Today, Cloudflare manages some eight million websites, API's, and applications through a vast network of 300 data centres stationed across 120 countries. The company also serves 13,000 networks, including all the major ISPs, according to the company's latest data.
When and how was Cloudflare founded?
Cloudflare started with a fortuitous meeting in 2009, when Prince met Michelle Zatlyn (now the company's president) at the Harvard Business School, where he was studying for an MBA. Outlining Project Honey Pot to Zatlyn, she immediately saw the business potential to turn the project into a viable security service to help companies protect themselves specifically from DDoS attacks.
Working on the business plan for what would become Cloudflare while they continued to study, Holloway built the first prototype of the system they wanted to create. In 2009, their business plan won the prestigious Harvard Business School Business Plan competition.
The same year, all three spent the summer refining their business, which attracted investments from Ray Rothrock, Venrock, and Carl Ledbetter from Pelion Venture Partners. Using selected Project Honey Pot community members, the initial version of Cloudflare was released to beta. Not just securing the websites it protected, the low latency of the system also improved site load times by an average 30%.
Cloudflare was officially launched in September 2010 at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Since then, the company has continued to innovate in the digital security space. The company went public in 2019 and a year later, COO Michelle Zatlyn became president of the company.
What does Cloudflare sell?
Cloudflare is a reverse proxy system that intercepts potential DDoS attacks before they reach their intended victim. Their systems are SPDY and HTTP/2 compliant, and support HTTP/2 Server Push.
In the company's latest state of applications service report, Cloudflare states it now handles, on average, 45 million HTTP requests per second.
Speaking to SDxCentral, Cloudflare's CTO, John Graham-Cumming, said: "The variation in attack patterns was one of the biggest surprises and really highlighted the diversity of ongoing attacks across the network. We are still receiving hits from CVE [common vulnerabilities and exposures]-specific rules written over eight years ago."
The company has continued to develop new products and services in the digital security space, including Cloudflare Workers, a freemium VPN for mobile devices called WARP, an eSIM to support Zero Trust, and Cloudflare One – a SASE platform.
“AI inference on a network is going to be the sweet spot for many businesses: private data stays close to wherever users physically are, while still being extremely cost-effective to run because it’s nearby,” said Matthew Prince, CEO and co-founder, Cloudflare.
“With Nvidia’s state-of-the-art GPU technology on our global network, we’re making AI inference — that was previously out of reach for many customers — accessible and affordable globally.”
Cloudflare mergers and acquisitions
Since its inception, Cloudflare has been active in acquiring several companies that complement its core competencies, including:
- StopTheHacker and CryptoSeal in 2014
- Eager Platform Co. in 2016
- S2 Systems in 2020
- Zaraz in 2021
- Vectrix and Area 1 Security in February 2022
At the time of Area 1 Security's acquisition, CEO Matthew Price said: "Email is the largest cyberattack vector on the Internet, which makes integrated email security critical to any true Zero Trust network. That's why we're welcoming Area 1 Security today to help make Cloudflare's platform the clear leader in Zero Trust."
In 2023, Cloudflare was named as a leader in the latest Forrester Wave report into email security, stating: “Cloudflare makes a strong entry into email security with its Area 1 acquisition."
Similarly, IDC MarketScape for Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) said of Cloudflare: “From inception, Cloudflare has focused on small and medium-sized businesses but has since pursued an aggressive product strategy to support enterprise security needs. Cloudflare Access is the foundation of its enterprise zero trust suite, and the linchpin in its enterprise security strategy.”
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David Howell is a freelance writer, journalist, broadcaster and content creator helping enterprises communicate.
Focussing on business and technology, he has a particular interest in how enterprises are using technology to connect with their customers using AI, VR and mobile innovation.
His work over the past 30 years has appeared in the national press and a diverse range of business and technology publications. You can follow David on LinkedIn.