Google vs CloudFlare

The top selling feature of any CDN is undoubtedly, performance. The faster the CDN delivers content, the more the website owner makes, and the more companies flock to that CDN. That is why EdgeCast and Fastly tout performance every chance they get.

Squeezing every inch of performance from the CDN stack is a complex feat. There are dozens of layers that can be optimized—the middle mile, caching software, OS, TCP/IP layer, routers, load balancers, FEO—and the list goes on. For most, performance impacts the top line and bottom line. For web properties that receive millions of pageviews and unique visitors daily, milliseconds equate to millions of dollars annually.

For highly popular e-commerce sites, milliseconds equate to tens of millions of dollars annually. With performance being so detrimental to a CDN, engineers are constantly working hard to make optimizations to their platforms. Sometimes, engineers come up with different tests and methods to measure performance and improve it. In a few cases, debates arise in the public domain. The best debates are downright comical. Nothing wrong with getting a little laugh every now and then!

In one particular case, John Graham-Cummings of CloudFlare, wrote an article titled “Stop Worrying about Time to First Byte (TTFB)”. In short, he said TTFB is a foolish metric. In case some are wondering what TTFB is, it is a metric that measures how fast the first piece of content downloads onto your device when requested. Everyone in the industry uses this metric, including the large performance monitoring companies such as Gomez and Keynote.

The article caused a stir amongst the tech community, because it was a bold proclamation that goes against common sense. It caused enough confusion so that a Google performance engineer by the name of IIya Grigorik, had to step in to bring resolution to the dispute. He said, “TTBF matters. “His response was classic; “Except, it absolutely does” and “Cloudflare’s test is just silly”.

Midway through his blog, IIya states the following; “the nginx discussion is orthogonal to the implied conclusion”. My first response to that statement was, “there is no way in the world orthogonal is a word in the English dictionary”. I had never heard that word before.

My second response was “ouch.” John from CloudFlare goes on the offensive to defend his test results against IIya from Google. I have some advice for my friend Johnny boy or any other Johnny boy engineer in the CDN world—absolutely never ever get into a public debate with a Google performance engineer.

First, the Google performance engineering team is going to run all over you like Pete Carroll’s Trojan football team. Second, Google might just drop your Alexa ranking from 1,500 to 150,000 in three seconds with one change to an algorithm. Sometimes, it is better to admit your mistake, put your tail between your legs, and admit defeat. Nothing wrong with that, we all make mistakes including me…