Why We Invested in Zerotier: Reimaging LANs for the Modern World
Mark Mullen & Tyler Churchill
February 22, 2021
I remember going to an “internet café” in 1995 near my London office to download my emails to a floppy disk, take it to my office, read and reply and go back to the café to upload and send my replies. Why? Fixed or wireless broadband options were scarce and the ones that did exist were prohibited by my US-based employer due to security concerns. Soon, as the Internet and companies like Cisco, Sun, and Oracle exploded, the networked company with servers and routers and security became ubiquitous. ISPs, hosting companies, and data centers became the thing and companies and their employees were now connected through centralized technology where one could monitor and manage a corporate network from HQ or with data center access. I could get my email from anywhere at any time while still having it tied to our central network.
One could argue that the cloud started taking off with the 2006 launch of AWS and of course the iPhone in 2007; nevertheless, we were able to move to the “edge” but were still stuck “on-prem.” Forward to now and the cloud is ubiquitous and is no more owned by the big Internet and telecom giants any more than clouds in the sky are owned by Elon Musk (I think?). Now, with COVID accelerating the obvious, the many pieces of this “cloud” (data, information, identity) are now accessible from any device, anywhere, anytime, just like in 1999, when Qwest proclaimed in this video, “we have every movie, ever made, in any language, anytime.”
Now in 2021, there is a global chip shortage. Other than indicating that more fabrication capacity is needed, this tells us that the number of chips being made and deployed in the world is both enormous and growing. These chips are going into all kinds of things, and all those things need to communicate. And, as we deploy and connect more things, the more complex and varied our networking needs become.
Meanwhile, the way we deploy networks has not changed significantly since the turn of the millennium. Each location has a router of some kind and all the devices on-site are placed behind it. This setup makes it easy for devices to reach out and communicate with things in the cloud, but anything else is incredibly hard.
The shortcomings of this networking has given rise to an endless array of hacks and workarounds that are time-consuming, expensive, and complex. As networks grow in complexity and new requirements like telework increase the need for network agility, these costs can only grow.
Last year a company called ZeroTier came to us with a vision of networking reimagined from first principles. Instead of local area networks, routers, and the Internet, they showed us a system that allows the world to be treated as a single data center or cloud region. In the 21st century, they explained, it should be possible to “just connect things.” Their software replaces physical locations and network perimeters with automatic peer-to-peer routing, encryption, and cryptographic access controls, and it “just works” in nearly all common configurations.
We’ve heard ideas to revolutionize networking before, but ZeroTier had a fully baked core technology with loyal users, traction, and growth. Search Twitter or Reddit and you’ll find thousands of people raving about what this company makes possible.
Patiently built and marinated by its founder Adam Ierymenko, and with no marketing spend, ZeroTier has quietly created a network that literally spans the globe to more than 40 countries securely connecting millions of devices or “nodes” to each other and growing rapidly. COVID has only accelerated the need and opportunity for ZeroTier as individuals and companies are spinning up networks rapidly and everywhere to accommodate their needs outside of the office...literally off-prem.
ZeroTier is a network virtualization platform that allows the connection of designated devices, cloud VMs and applications to create "virtual chat rooms" for machines. The goal is to create a cloud region anywhere on the planet instead of only locations supported by a rigid networking infrastructure. Devices connect through ZeroTier for a one-time "handshake" enabled by automatic end-to-end encryption and then communicate directly on a private network that is completely mobile. This means ZeroTier can support an increasing amount of nodes/traffic on their networks with little impact on costs, as they are not taking on the burden of hosting.
With ZeroTier you can treat the entire planet like one data center or cloud region. It’s capable enough for large businesses with complex networking needs but easy enough that tens of thousands of regular people use it to do simple things like play games online or connect to their home PC from their mobile device.
At Bonfire we believe the promise of fundamentally building the network layer for the next era of personal computing is a massive opportunity, which is why we are excited to invest in ZeroTier.
Now, where did I put that floppy disk....?