Most people just think of the internet in terms of social media these days but at its heart, the internet is just a vast network of connected computers. All most of us have to worry about are the data costs we have to pay to our internet service providers that often double as our mobile network providers. Behind the scenes, though there is a large contingent of companies that are always working hard to make sure that we get a fast and flawless internet experience. One of these big operators is Cloudflare and a couple of months ago they made the Zimbabwean internet noticeably faster by launching a Zimbabwean data centre with an unnamed partner who is probably Liquid Intelligent Technologies.

Without further ado, here are the 18 new cities in 10 countries we welcomed to our global network: Accra, Ghana; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Bhubaneshwar, India; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Joinville, Brazil; Erbil, Iraq; Fukuoka, Japan; Goiânia, Brazil; Haifa, Israel; Harare, Zimbabwe; Juazeiro do Norte, Brazil; Kanpur, India; Manaus, Brazil; Naha, Japan; Patna, India; São José do Rio Preto, Brazil; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Uberlândia, Brazil.

Cloudflare’s muted introduction of the Zimbabwaean Point of Presence

Cloudflare an important juggernaut you may have never heard of

If you are not a nerd you have probably never heard of Cloudflare unless perhaps if you are a Techzim reader and have seen one of my articles on them there. Cloudflare provides nerd-like sounding services that make the internet faster, allow you to quickly load your favourite websites and make sure that they stay online even when they are attacked by hackers. They do this by creating a vast network of computers in hundreds of cities and locations around the world and working with companies that make websites and apps. This of course includes us, Zimpricecheck.

Their most popular service is known as CDN also known as Content Delivery Network. This is a geek speak for a setup that allows you to access a website from the location close to you. So for example, if you are in London the Zimpricecheck website will be cached (stored) on a Cloudflare Server in London and it take you less than 20 milliseconds to reach it. Given Cloudflare’s vast network it does not matter whether you are in Australia, Tokyo or now Harare, the Zimpricecheck website will be locally available making it faster and easier to access. They do this for millions of other sites and not just Zimpricecheck. It all sounds like gibberish but trust us, it makes the difference between a site taking a minute to load on your phone and it loads in less than 3 seconds.

Why this is a big deal for Zimbabwean app makers and internet users

A long time ago Zimbabwean ISPs used to provide locally hosted websites but they have since given up for the most part. This is because having a data centre in Zimbabwe can be very expensive. You need massive amounts of electricity which is not available. Not only do you need a lot of electricity you ideally need around 3 different sources of constant power to ensure that if there are blackouts there is a fallback plan. In a country where mobile network operators struggle to keep boosters (cellphone towers) on it seems futile to spend money on a local data centre. The costs would be astronomical making local data centres uneconomic. Already local companies charge on average 10 times more compared to what companies like OVH in Europe charge.

This has led web developers to abandon local hosting in favour of international host partners. With Cloudflare having a point of presence in Zimbabwe that will not matter anymore. Even though Zimpricecheck is hosted in London popular pages of it will be cached in Harare making them faster. Less popular pages can remain hosted in London. This is a win-win for both users and Zimbabwean internet service providers as resources are only spent where they are needed.