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How Toffs is seizing Asia’s CDN market

Toffs Technologies is eyeing second- and third-tier cities in Asia as it bolsters its infrastructure and experiments with the use of home networks as content delivery networks

The demand for content delivery networks (CDNs) by media and e-commerce firms in Asia has surged amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with more people streaming videos, playing games and buying things online.

Although global CDN providers have established point-of-presence (POP) locations in major Asian business hubs such as Singapore and Tokyo, the same cannot be said for cities such as Heilongjiang in northeast China and Surabaya in Indonesia.

Since 2014, Toffs Technologies, a Singapore-based CDN provider co-founded by former Akamai executive Philip Chua, has had a head start in Asia’s underserved cities, where demand for its services has accelerated, especially from e-commerce and media platforms.

“E-commerce is changing the paradigm, with more people using videos to sell goods,” said Chua. “And in China, internet celebrities on platforms like TikTok have a huge following.”

Like most CDN providers, Toffs also helps businesses guard against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, although its focus, like others, has been on DDoS protection at edge locations rather than traditional “clean pipe” services.

With DDoS edge protection, malicious traffic is dropped at the edge of a network while legitimate traffic passes through, said Chua. “But if you use a clean pipe, you’ve got to reroute the BGP route to a single location before you scrub the traffic, and that creates latency.”

Mitigating threats at the edge is tricky because hackers can change their attack vectors which, in turn, demands network configurations to be changed. Over a year ago, Toffs received a grant from AI Singapore’s 100E programme to solve that problem.

“We wanted to use machine learning so that all our POPs can look at real-time attacks and change the configurations on the fly, making our edge more intelligent and resilient against cyber attacks,” said Chua.

Operating CDNs typically requires sizeable investments in cloud, datacentre and, increasingly, edge infrastructure, which must offer low-latency performance in a cost-effective manner. Toffs uses more than 30 datacentres operated by local and global cloud suppliers to deliver CDN services across the region.

The company recently added Oracle to the list, choosing to run its software off Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) in markets such as South Korea and Japan. In China, it uses Tencent Cloud, Alibaba Cloud and major Chinese telcos to build up its footprint in the country.

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It has also started to migrate back-end processes such as log consolidation to perform real-time analysis of cyber threats, as well as its master database, from Alibaba Cloud and Amazon Web Services to OCI to support its growth.

Chua said OCI stood out from a return-on-investment perspective, in addition to Oracle’s enterprise-class support, which will enable Toffs to minimise network downtime and latency that could affect its customers’ businesses.

“Latency performance is definitely key, and we have a network team that constantly does a trace route to see how our suppliers are performing,” said Chua. “We do that every five minutes to half an hour, and the results show that OCI has very good connectivity, not only in Japan and South Korea but also Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.”

Toffs also uses OCI in South Korea as a backup location should one of its cloud suppliers in China fail to deliver the required latency performance. It has since developed auto-routing capabilities to automatically switch between POP locations.

To improve the latency performance of “chatty” applications that require a significant volume of communications between servers and client machines, Toffs has been experimenting with using business and home networks as CDNs.

“CDNs are good for static files like videos and songs, but they are not good for chatty applications like banking transactions,” said Chua. “Moving forward, it will be a combination of using home CDNs and tier-two or tier-three datacentres.”

At the same time, Toffs is working with Oracle on an infrastructure and platform stack to make CDN and infrastructure services available to datacentre co-location providers such as Equinix, which can then resell the services as a white-label offering.

The company currently employs about 90 staff, half of whom are based in Singapore. Its network operations centre is spread across Singapore and Malaysia, while its development teams are in Singapore, China and Vietnam.

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