The declining value of Cloudflare in Australia

(Well the Free and Pro plans at least)

Simon East
May 18, 2017 · 4 min read

I’ve been a long-term fan and advocate of Cloudflare. I love their service and enjoy watching how they make the internet better for millions around the world. They are fast-movers, leaders and trend-setters in the industry. The engineering challenges expounded in their blog always fascinate me.

But I’m beginning to reconsider the use of Cloudflare for our agency’s clients. And here’s why.

In August 2016, Cloudflare published a blog post Bandwidth Costs Around the World. The basic summary was that Telstra and Optus were charging them far above industry norms for traffic sharing (peering), and that negotiations with them had stalled. They had to make the decision to move Free accounts off these links to save on costs.

Here’s a quote…

Today, however, there are six expensive networks (HiNet, Korea Telecom, Optus, Telecom Argentina, Telefonica, Telstra) that are more than an order of magnitude more expensive than other bandwidth providers around the globe and refuse to discuss local peering relationships. To give you a sense, these six networks represent less than 6% of the traffic but nearly 50% of our bandwidth costs.

While we’ve tried to engage all these providers to reduce their extremely high costs and ensure that even our Free customers can be served across their networks, we’ve hit an impasse. To that end, unfortunately, we’ve made the decision that the only thing that will change these providers’ pricing is to make it clear how out of step they are with the rest of the world. To demonstrate this, we’ve moved our Free customers off these six transit providers. Free customers will still be accessible across our network and served from another regional cache with more reasonable bandwidth pricing.

That’s unfortunate, but fair enough”, I thought. Free accounts aren’t contributing to those costs.

But then, a few months later, I noticed that Pro accounts ($20/month) were getting some of their Australian traffic routed to Singapore (SIN), Hong Kong (HKG), or even Los Angeles (LAX) datacenters in some cases!

Requests from Melbourne to Sydney are routed via Cloudflare’s Hong Kong datacenter!

Sadly, Cloudflare did this silently with zero mention in their blog posts or knowledgebase or any communication with customers.

And then I noticed that it wasn’t only Telstra and Optus customers, but TPG too! These are the three biggest ISPs in Australia with a combined market share of approximately 80% of the country. [1][2]

It doesn’t make sense to send 50–80% of our (mostly Australian) website audience to a server more than 7,000km away.

The increased latency has become quite noticeable.

When I contacted Cloudflare, the only solution they offered was to upgrade to a Business plan at US$200/month. Unfortunately only very-high-traffic business-critical sites and enterprises can justify that cost. Most of our clients don’t get enough value from Cloudflare to justify that.

I reached out to Telstra and Optus to ask about their peering arrangements and they seem to not even be aware of Cloudflare, or at least deny any responsibility.

Here’s what Telstra customer service told me:

As of the moment, our hands are tights in granting your request as Cloudflare network is a third party company and we don’t have any direct contact to them. Cloudflare is the one who decides which peering arrangement to go with any Telecom Company.

All Optus could say was:

Appreciate the feedback … we are all passing this feedback on to our management for consideration. If and when we have any information or developments to share then we will do so.

(Update: I recently discovered this submission that Cloudflare made to the ACCC regarding Telstra and Optus’ anti-competitive behaviour. I’m interested to know if anything came out of that.)

Cloudflare seem to doing what they can, but I still have to reconsider the value of their service that makes things slower for our users, rather than faster.

When our clients need DDOS protection, I still wouldn’t go anywhere else. No one else can stop botnet attacks like Cloudflare can. But for performance enhancements, I’m hesitant to recommend them. Adding Cloudflare to a website adds an additional layer of complexity, and because of this increased latency, it's no longer providing the performance boost it once did.

I’ll be watching closely to see if Optus, Telstra and Cloudflare can work out their differences and help build a faster web.


Originally posted in May 2017. Sadly there has been no progress or improvement as of Dec 2018.

What’s your thoughts on this situation? Share in the comments below.


Geek stuff. A quick way to tell which datacenter you’re being routed to is to add /cdn-cgi/trace to the end of a Cloudflare-enabled domain. Examples:

https://thankyou.co/cdn-cgi/trace
https://vollie.com.au/cdn-cgi/trace

Then look for the line that says:

colo=HKG

That means that although I’m in Melbourne, Australia, uncached requests are being sent via Hong Kong and then back to the server in Sydney. Then the data has to travel all the way back through Hong Kong to me.


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