Baidu, CloudFlare give Chinese users a fast-lane to the global internet through unique partnership

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 3:09pm

Chinese internet users will see a significant speed boost when accessing overseas websites thanks to a first-of-its-kind partnership between one of China's largest tech firms and a US start-up.

Search giant Baidu and internet performance company CloudFlare announced a strategic partnership on Monday to enable websites to load faster on either side of the Great Firewall, China's network of internet filters and controls.

"As people search for the content and services they want, they expect it to be fast and secure everywhere, all of the time," said Baidu president Zhang Yaqin.

"CloudFlare and Baidu have the opportunity to transform the internet for the better in China and worldwide."

The partnership leverages CloudFlare's international network of servers and Baidu's extensive Chinese one to make foreign sites more accessible to users within China, while also speeding up how fast Chinese sites load outside of the country.

Sites based on servers in China can often be frustratingly slow to load from outside of the Great Firewall, angering users and potentially causing owners to lose business.

"The number of trade-offs we made to launch our platform to connect Chinese students with international educational opportunities was astounding," said Greg Nance, chief executive and founder of Shanghai-based start-up ChaseFuture.

Nance's firm uses the CloudFlare-Baidu platform, which soft-launched in December.

"[It] solved all of our problems. Our desktop and mobile apps are now blazing fast for our Chinese customers, as well as our international partners and mentors, even though all of our infrastructure is in China."

Under the agreement, CloudFlare does not operate in China, but has transferred its technology to Baidu under a virtual joint venture, with the two companies sharing revenue.

"We've navigated what few have been able, a cooperation-based model that preserves the integrity and security of the two networks, as well as our customers," said Joshua Motta, head of special projects at CloudFlare.

"Baidu operates all services within China, and CloudFlare outside of China, in accordance with all local laws and regulations."

Previously firms have been loathe to share technology with Chinese partners due to fears of intellectual property theft.

"We had much less apprehension about sharing our code, because we don't think there's any line of code we write that's so clever that gives us a sustained advantage," CloudFlare chief executive Matthew Prince told the New York Times.

"That comes from the network itself."

Since the fast-lane began operation, CloudFlare and Baidu said they have signed up 450,000 businesses, accounting for more than 57 billion page views per month.

Headquartered in San Francisco, CloudFlare is valued at more than US$1 billion. Last year, the company stepped in to help mitigate a huge distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on a website set up by the University of Hong Kong to host an unofficial referendum on the city's political future.

At the time, Prince described the attack as the most sophisticated he had ever seen.

It also sparked concern within the company that CloudFlare's roll in such a politically sensitive incident could scupper any potential deal with a Chinese partner.

"There was definitely a moment there where it wasn't entirely clear whether that situation would spook Baidu or spook the government, and we handled it, I think, in a very professional way," Motta told the Times.