There are a lot of people and businesses worldwide that are currently suffering, so I don’t want to waste any time in getting to the point.
Beginning today, we are making our Cloudflare for Teams products free to small businesses around the world. Teams enables remote workers to operate securely and easily. We will continue this policy for at least the next 6 months. We’re doing this to help ensure that small businesses that implement work from home policies in order to combat the spread of the virus can ensure business continuity. You can learn more and apply at: https://www.cloudflare.com/smallbusiness
We’ve also helped launch an online hub where small businesses can see technology services available to them for free or a substantial discount from multiple companies, during the Coronavirus Emergency: https://openforbusiness.org
To understand more about why we’re doing this, read on.
The IT Strain of WFH
We have a team at Cloudflare carefully monitoring the spread of the SARS-Coronavirus-2, which is responsible for the COVID-19 respiratory disease. Like at many other companies, we have heeded the advice of medical professionals and government agencies and are increasingly allowing employees to work from home in impacted regions in order to hopefully help slow the spread of the disease.
While this is prudent advice to help control the spread of the disease, employees working from home put a different load on a company’s IT resources than if they are working from the office. In-person meetings are instead held online, so you need to ensure your video conferencing systems are up for the task. Critical documents can’t be signed in person, so electronic signature systems need to be in place. There’s an increased importance on online chat and other communication tools.
And, importantly, the systems that ensure online authorized access to these tools can no longer use the physical location of an employee as evidence they are authorized to use a service.
WFH Strains IT Security
We’ve seen some large companies struggle in ways both serious and silly with increased loads on their traditional firewall and VPN infrastructures over the last week.
An emergency WFH declaration for all employees caused at least one company’s VPN infrastructure to fall over. Please plan ahead. 😉
— Gregory P💙 Smith (he/him) (@gpshead) February 27, 2020
Today in unexpected mass work from home problems:
Facebook’s VPN IP got banned from DoorDash because so many people were trying to order food from home while connected to the corporate network.
— Jacob Rossi (@jacobrossi) March 7, 2020
Large organizations, undoubtedly, can work through these issues by either increasing the number of licenses for their firewalls and VPNs or moving to a more modern, cloud-based solution. What’s been concerning to us is the number of small businesses that don’t have the ability to quickly provision the resources they need to support their employees when they’re not physically in the office.
Was having a convo with a small group of CIOs last weekend about this exact thing.
BigCo’s have the resources to do this. SMB’s however, do not.
millions will be forced to go into work bc WFH/Resiliency was never designed into ops and now they have to share 50 vpn lics! 😱😬😳 https://t.co/cWONe3FUqd
What We’re Seeing
The story that hit home to me came last week when I heard about a small business who had reached out to us. The company has approximately 100 employees in a region hard-hit by viral infections and thousands of partners who use their platform. They, responsibly, allowed their employees to work from home. Unfortunately, their small office VPN was limited in terms of the number of simultaneous users as well as capacity. Their outsourced IT team said getting a new one up and running would take at least a week. And, at a time when travel bookings were already waning, the owner was legitimately concerned that his business would not survive this crisis.
I happened to be sitting with a group of our sales engineers over lunch last week when I heard this story. They were proud that we’d been able to offer Cloudflare for Teams as a solution to quickly replace the travel agency’s VPN. And that’s great—the owner of the travel agency was thrilled—but it still felt like we should be doing more.
I spent some time digging into recent inquiries for Cloudflare for Teams coming from small businesses and found that the travel agency was hardly alone. Small businesses around the world are struggling to maintain some semblance of business continuity as increasingly their employees aren’t physically coming into the office. While firewalls and VPNs were hardly their only concern, the limitations they imposed were becoming real threats to business continuity.
The Fragility of Small Businesses
Small businesses are the lifeblood of most countries’ economies. In the United States, for instance, small businesses employ half of all non-government employees. They are responsible for the creation of two-thirds of net new jobs. Unfortunately, they are much more vulnerable to even minor interruptions in their operations. Oftentimes their margins are so thin that any significant new expense or reduction in revenue can cause them to fail.
Today Cloudflare makes most of our money selling to large enterprises. But serving small businesses has always been in our DNA. We began as a small business ourselves and spent our early years providing the tools previously available only to the big guys to every individual developer and small business. We wouldn’t be the company we are today if small businesses hadn’t trusted us in our early years.
So while the impact of the Coronavirus is being felt by businesses large and small, I am worried the impact on small businesses could be especially devastating. Small businesses have always been there for us and we want to be there for them during this time of increased strain, therefore today we’re announcing two initiatives:
Free Cloudflare for Teams
First, we are making Cloudflare for Teams available to small businesses worldwide for free for at least the next six months. We will evaluate the situation in six months and make a determination about whether we will extend the length of the free offer.
We are using the US Small Business Administration’s definition of a small business to define what businesses qualify, but the offer is not limited to US companies. The Coronavirus is an issue for small businesses globally and we have an extensive global network that can serve customers worldwide.
To apply, visit: https://www.cloudflare.com/smallbusiness
Our team is standing by and will move quickly evaluating applications.
Moreover, since small businesses often don’t have sophisticated IT teams, Cloudflare team members from all over the world have volunteered to host onboarding sessions to help small businesses get setup quickly and correctly. We’ve worked hard to make Cloudflare for Teams easy for any business to be able to use, but we understand that it can still be intimidating if your expertise isn’t IT. Our team stands ready to help.
The Open for Business Hub
Second, we realize that Cloudflare for Teams solves only one little part of a small business’ challenges as their employees increasingly work from home. They also need communication, video conferencing, collaboration, document management, and other IT resources. We don’t provide them all, but we know the leaders at a lot of companies who do.
I spent the weekend talking with other companies that I admire and that provide cloud-based solutions that could help solve the challenges many businesses are currently facing. Many shared the same concerns that we had about the fragility of small businesses and wanted to help. Together we are helping launch a hub of resources for small businesses working to ensure business continuity over the months to come: https://openforbusiness.org/
The hub features free and deeply discounted services for small businesses from several technology companies. And I expect more will step up to this challenge over the days to come. To request inclusion, companies can email: [email protected].
We’re In This Together
The news of the spread of the Coronavirus has made it clear it is no longer business as usual for any business worldwide. Every responsible business leader spent the weekend worried about how they’re going to get through the weeks and months ahead: ensuring their employees’ safety, delivering for their customers, and protecting their business. I believe we have a duty to step up where we can to help each other out during times of stress like the one we’re in. Together, we can get through this.