When Dropbox announced it was leaving AWS last
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.

Diagram: Dropbox

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.

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