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CloudFlare's CDN is based on Anycast, a standard defined in the Border Gateway Protocol—the routing protocol that's at the center of how the Internet directs traffic. Anycast is part of how BGP supports the multi-homing of IP addresses, in which multiple routers connect a network to the Internet; through the broadcasts of IP addresses available through a router, other routers determine the shortest path for network traffic to take to reach that destination.

Using Anycast means that CloudFlare makes the servers it fronts appear to be in many places, while only using one IP address. "If you do a traceroute to Metallica.com (a CloudFlare customer), depending on where you are in the world, you would hit a different data center," Prince said. "But you're getting back the same IP address."

That means that as CloudFlare adds more data centers, and those data centers advertise the IP addresses of the websites that are fronted by the service, the Internet's core routers automatically re-map the routes to the IP addresses of the sites. There's no need to do anything special with the Domain Name Service to handle load-balancing of network traffic to sites other than point the hostname for a site at CloudFlare's IP address. It also means that when a specific data center needs to be taken down for an upgrade or maintenance (or gets knocked offline for some other reason), the routes can be adjusted on the fly.

That makes it much harder for distributed denial of service attacks to go after servers behind CloudFlare's CDN network; if they're geographically widespread, the traffic they generate gets spread across all of CloudFlare's data centers—as long as the network connections at each site aren't overcome.

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The inside of Equinix's co-location facility in San Jose—the home of CloudFlare's primary data center.

Photo: Peter McCollough/Wired.com

On August 22, CloudFlare, a content delivery network, turned on a brand new data center in Seoul, Korea—the last of ten new facilities started across four continents in a span of thirty days. The Seoul data center brought CloudFlare's number of data centers up to 23, nearly doubling the company's global reach—a significant feat in itself for a company of just 32 employees.

But there was something else relatively significant about the Seoul data center and the other 9 facilities set up this summer: despite the fact that the company owned every router and every server in their racks, and each had been configured with great care to handle the demands of CloudFlare's CDN and security services, no one from CloudFlare had ever set foot in them. All that came from CloudFlare directly was a six-page manual instructing facility managers and local suppliers on how to rack and plug in the boxes shipped to them.

"We have nobody stationed in Stockholm or Seoul or Sydney, or a lot of the places that we put these new data centers," CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince told Ars. "In fact, no CloudFlare employees have stepped foot in half of the facilities where we've launched." The totally remote-controlled data center approach used by the company is one of the reasons that CloudFlare can afford to provide its services for free to most of its customers—and still make a 75 percent profit margin.

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The entrance to Facebook's campus

Photograph by Ryan Paul

Facebook is headquartered in Menlo Park, California at a site that used belong to Sun Microsystems. A large sign with Facebook's distinctive "like" symbol—a hand making the thumbs-up gesture—marks the entrance. When I arrived at the campus recently, a small knot of teenagers had congregated, snapping cell phone photos of one another in front of the sign.

Thanks to the film The Social Network, millions of people know the crazy story of Facebook's rise from dorm room project to second largest website in the world. But few know the equally intriguing story about the engine humming beneath the social network's hood: the sophisticated technical infrastructure that delivers an interactive Web experience to hundreds of millions of users every day.

I recently had a unique opportunity to visit Facebook headquarters and see that story in action. Facebook gave me an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the process it uses to deploy new functionality. I watched first-hand as the company's release engineers rolled out the new "timeline" feature for brand pages.

Read more on Ars Technica…

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pacman

Editor’s note: Contributor Ashkan Karbasfrooshan is the founder and CEO of WatchMojo, he hosts a show on business and has published books on success.  Follow him on Twitter @ashkan.

In last week’s Get Rich or Die Trying article, I mentioned that “tech is a zero-sum, winner takes all game”.  A reader objected, arguing: “I think that may be an inappropriate use of the term ‘zero-sum’ – one company’s increase in profits (or revenue) does not mean a competitor must see declining profits (or revenue)”.

History suggests that Jack Welch’s philosophy that “a company should be #1 or #2 in a particular industry or else leave it completely” is even more applicable to the tech industry, where the top player can build a sustainable and ever-growing business but everyone else is practically better off getting out.

Examples of market dominance by the #1 that come to mind include:

-          Google in search,
-          Facebook in social networking,
-          Groupon in daily deals, and
-          Amazon in e-Commerce.

This doesn’t mean that the:

-          #1 player isn’t susceptible to the Innovator’s Dilemma, or
-          #2 competitor can’t build a massive business.

Indeed, Microsoft’s Bing or LivingSocial are meaningful #2’s in search and daily deals respectively, but clearly the network effects and economies of scale that come with market share dominance make it nearly impossible for challengers to remain relevant over-time. Monopolies are nothing new and come and go: Google is the evolution of Standard Oil, AT&T and Microsoft in search, you can argue that Apple is next in line in mobile.

What is Zero-Sum Game Anyway?

First, the definition:

“In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.”

Indeed, while the tech sector is huge, within each segment, you see a zero-sum game from each individual purchasing decision out.  For example,

-          a consumer will buy a Mac or PC; an iPhone or Android device, etc.
-          a business will adopt a solution from Oracle or Siebel, for example,

But it’s rare for a consumer to buy or a company to adopt both.

If you repeat this binary-like decision process throughout the industry and economy, you get a zero-sum situation where one competitor’s gains come at the expense of others’ in the industry: Apple’s iPhone sales obviously put a dent in the Blackberry; and its iPads are evidently going to affect PC sales – no matter how much some want to deny it.

It’s Like This in Most Industries, The Only Difference Is Severity

I run an online video content company and categorize video companies into four quadrants:

-          Content (creators),
-          Distribution (search, distribution),
-          Technology (content management systems, content delivery networks), and
-          Advertising (ad networks, servers)

Clearly there’s a lot of overlap and how those four interact with one another merits an article in of itself (or hundreds).  While technology (with a lower case) enables Content companies, it increasingly underpins Distribution, Technology and Advertising companies.

As such, I see this zero-sum phenomenon every day with the latter three.  When TechCrunch’s parent AOL bought 5Min for example, it was a matter of time before AOL stopped licensing Brightcove’s Online Video Platform and instead use 5Min’s player.  Seeing how AOL and 5Min were my distribution partners, I kept that thought to myself, but it was a matter of time.  Today AOL’s main platform for video is indeed 5Min (note: I am not an AOL/5Min employee).

Content Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game: “I’m Your Pusher”

In content, it’s not really like that. ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC all have meaningful franchises.  Sure, if you watch FOX on Sunday at 6pm then you may not watch ABC at that time, increasingly with cord-cutting and time shifting that isn’t the case anymore.  In fact, content is so not a zero-sum game that a company like Viacom has multiple brands to address that reality.

Indeed, if you want to travel to Barcelona, you won’t watch one video or read an article, you will read/watch many and I’d argue that content consumption – like a drug – just creates more demand.

But if you want to book a ticket to Barcelona, you will either use Travelocity or Expedia, for example.

Place Your Bets

That makes content a less-risky endeavor, and, with digital media and digital distribution reducing the marginal cost of production and distribution, then content has become a better risk-adjusted bet, though arguably not as scalable and certainly not a winner-takes-all gamble.

It will take an entire generation before investors realize this; though some argue that it’s already started. According to media guru Jack Myers, “VC funds are being redirected away from tech and toward content. Technology-based venture opportunities in the media and advertising space have been largely played out. Bottom line, venture capital funds will be shifting from technology to content, context, commerce and research.”

I’m not holding my breath, even though digital content is effectively the new software.

In Tech, Competition Becomes Blurry Over Time

The same way that the Internet has changed content, it has also changed technology.  For one, with consumer-focused technology companies being free, advertising-supported businesses, the prevailing asset isn’t necessarily the underlying hardware or software, but rather, the audience.

This is why tech companies are all seemingly fighting one another:

-          Facebook vs Google in search and social networking,
-          Google vs Apple in mobile,
-          Amazon vs Apple in tablets and entertainment,
-          Microsoft vs Google in search.

You get the idea: in tech, everyone morphs into everyone’s competitor… and since the main asset – the audience or consumer base – is so fleeting, tech becomes an even riskier bet.

The Four Horsemen

Whereas initially the Web pitted “content vs. tech”, as the Web matures, it becomes “tech vs. tech” with Content becoming Switzerland amongst Distribution, Technology and Advertising companies.

In the real world, there is no perfect example of a zero-sum game – granted.  But whereas Jack Welch argued that a business ought to be #1 or #2 or get out, the network effects that the web has unleashed over time force technology (lower case) businesses to either be #1 or get the hell out.

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