When Dropbox announced it was leaving AWS last year and bringing the bulk of the operation in-house, you had to figure it was working on a significant network expansion, and today the company announced a massive global network growth plan that is designed to increase syncing speed for users and cut costs for the company.
The plan involves several approaches including custom-built infrastructure similar to other web-scale companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook, but the company recognized it would take more than building hardware for its own unique needs. It also needed to find ways to speed up the process, and that meant providing services as close to the user as possible. This is known as moving computing to the edge of the network.
They started with an enormous network expansion effort across 14 cities in seven countries on three continent, according to the company. “In doing so, we’ve added hundreds of gigabits of Internet connectivity with transit providers (regional and global ISPs), and hundreds of new peering partners (where we exchange traffic directly rather than through an ISP),” Dropbox’s Raghav Bhargava wrote in a company blog post.
But the company didn’t stop there. It also built a custom proxy based on open source software to power the entire project. “The edge proxy is a stack of servers that act as the first gateway for TLS & TCP handshake for users and is deployed in PoPs (points of presence) to improve the performance for a user accessing Dropbox from any part of the globe,” Bhargava wrote.
This type of service is typically offered by Content Delivery Network (CDN) providers like Akamai, but like many companies working at the scale of Dropbox, it ultimately decided it needed to build a custom solution to meet its unique requirements and to give it the ability to control all aspects of the stack.
The company is deploying the custom proxy stack across its US data centers starting today. It plans to deliver it worldwide over the next several quarters starting with Sydney, Miami then Paris in Q3 2017, and Madrid and Milan in Q4 2017. By the end of 2017, Dropbox plans to have 25 facilities in ten countries across four continents.
Ultimately, this expansion is designed for two reasons. One is to improve the user experience wherever they live. This was particularly important to Dropbox because it found that about 75 percent of users are outside the US. By moving to the edge, much like Netflix, the company is providing service as close to the user as possible, and with an expanded presence across the world once the expansion is complete, it should be able to improve performance in those areas with the largest concentration of users.
The second reason is that by building its own hardware and software, the company can control costs much more easily, and they are claiming the new approach cuts networking costs in half, an amount that has to add up to significant cost savings for the company.
Dropbox has making noise about a possible IPO and this kind of approach which speeds up service delivery and cuts costs should appeal to potential investors down the road. And it should please its customers who should benefit from faster service wherever they happen to be.