Cloudflare today announced a new alliance with JD Cloud & AI that will see an additional 150 data centers extend the company’s network in Chinato. Cloudflare is actually available in 17 data centers in mainland China, thanks to a long-standing alliance with Baidu, but obviously this latest contract is considerably larger.
The initial collaboration between Cloudflare and Baidu, established in 2015. The idea then, as now, was to give Cloudflare a foothold in one of the fastest-growing internet markets by making it easier for Chinese firms to reach customers inside and outside the country, but also — and perhaps more importantly — to enable international firms to better access the vast Chinese market.
“I think there are very few Western technology companies that have figured out how to work in China,” CEO and co-founder Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, told me. “And I think we’re very proud of that. What I’ve found about China — definitely in the last six years we’ve been working directly with partners there […] has been that while it’s a massive market and a tremendous opportunity […], there’s still a really tight-knotted technology culture — and one with a really long memory.
He credits the fact that for so many years Cloudflare has been a successful partner for Baidu, to the interest of JD in working with the company. That relationship with Baidu (Prince called them a “terrific partner”) will continue. However, this new deal with JD will now also give Cloudflare the ability to reach another set of Chinese companies that are currently betting on the cloud for that company.
“When we got to know them, JD really stood out,” said Prince. “I think they really are one of the up and coming cloud providers in China first of all. And I think that means that combining Cloudflare’s services with JD’s services makes their overall cloud platform much more stable for Chinese customers. “He also noted that JD has partnerships with several large Chinese companies that are increasingly looking to go global.
Today Cloudflare operates in about 200 cities to bring this offer into perspective. Adding another 150 — even if it’s through a partner — to this marks a significant expansion for the company.
As for the contract itself, Prince said it was close in nature to the agreement it made with Baidu. “We are contributing the technology and know-how needed to create a network across China. They introduce capital to build that network out and also have some financial guarantees for us and then we share in the upside of what happens as we can either sell the China network or as JD can sell the services of Cloudflare outside China.
Once the company first went via Baidu to China, it was criticized for entering a market where there are some apparent issues concerning freedom of speech. Prince, who was pretty vocal about the problems of free expression, seems to take a very cautious approach here.
“We definitely thought a lot about [free speech] when we first made the decision to join China in 2014,” he said. “And I think we have learned a great deal about it.
There are laws around the world, whether it is China or Turkey or Egypt or the United Kingdom or Brazil or eventually even the United States, as to what information can be accessed there. Regardless of what my personal feelings could be — and I grew up as a son of a journalist and in the U.S. and saw the potential to have a very free press and very, very, very good freedom of speech. Yet I do think that not every country has the same history and the same rules as the USA.
And I think that whatever the state laws are, what we have tried to do anywhere that we work is enforcement. And it’s hard to do anything else. “Cloudflare expects three years to go by before all of the data centers go online.
“I’m excited to be forming this strategic partnership with Cloudflare,” said Dr. Bowen Zhou, JD Cloud & AI chief. “Cloudflare’s ‘helping to create a better Internet’ mission closely aligns with JD Cloud & AI’s dedication to providing the best possible service to global partners.
Taking advantage of the rich experience of JD.com through vast business scenarios, as well as its logistics and technical capabilities, we believe this partnership will provide valuable services that will change the way business is done for users both within and outside China.