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What the Chinese Bamboo Tree and Teddy Roosevelt Taught Me About Scaling a Cloud and Building a Powerful Security Platform


The parable of the Chinese Bamboo tree has always fascinated me. Like any other plant, the story goes, you start by sowing a tiny seed in the ground. A year goes by and very little seems to happen on the surface. The second year you water and fertilize and protect the seed...nothing happens. You continue to nurture it for the third and fourth year... still nothing! Finally, in the fifth year, the Chinese Bamboo tree begins to grow. It shoots up almost 100 feet in just six weeks, and the question is, did it grow 100 feet in just six weeks? The answer, of course, is that it grew 100 feet in five years and six weeks. It took five years to grow the root system that would one day support a magnificent tree.

The seed of Zscaler’s cloud security platform was sown in the summer of 2007. While the enterprise landscape for security delivered as a service in the cloud was not quite fertile, we had a singular vision. We believed fundamentally that the world would be mobile and applications would run in the cloud. If that was the future for enterprises, traditional security appliances like proxies and firewalls that run in a company’s IT closets would become irrelevant. Our founder, CEO and principal investor, Jay Chaudhry, nurtured the vision and drove it with a passion and grit I’ve never seen in anyone else. We said no to shortcuts and decided to build the enterprise security stack from the ground up, born and bred in the cloud. Ten years, 4.2 million lines of code, 155 thousand code revisions and more than 100 issued and pending patents later, here we are today. The Zscaler cloud flourishes across 100 data centers, processing 40 billion internet requests per day at peak periods, stopping around 100 million threats daily for more than 2,800 global customers with users located in 185 countries. 

Much like the bamboo tree, the architectural foundation of the Zscaler cloud took time to grow. We built our TCP/IP stack to run in user space, with performance optimizations that allowed us to run a Layer7 proxy virtually at Layer2 ethernet speeds. We made the bold assumption that scanning SSL encrypted traffic would be a fundamental requirement for security and chose a proxy-based architecture over a simpler firewall based approach. With more than 60% of Internet transactions now being encrypted, it was a prescient decision. Enforcing policies and filtering malware hiding inside encrypted channels is compute intensive and a big benefit of Zscaler’s platform.

In order to serve customers with employees in almost every country, we needed a global presence. We avoided shortcuts in building out data centers. We invested in world class sites that route most of our customers’ Internet traffic worldwide. We leveraged top-tier 1 ISPs and regional carriers that best served customers in each geography. We made the smart decision early on to invest in peering with major telecommunication service providers, SaaS providers, public cloud providers, internet content providers and popular internet destinations Not only did our customers get their full security stack wherever they went, many of the popular destinations they went to were just a hop or two away from us as a result of low latency peered connections.

Our cloud grew as large organizations started to secure their outbound Internet traffic through Zscaler. Our customers got compounded security benefits aka “the cloud security effect” – threat intelligence gleaned from one organization’s traffic patterns benefited the whole community instantly.  Today, Zscaler ThreatLabZ processes billions of internet requests daily for new security threats, resulting in over 120 thousand unique security updates daily in the Zscaler platform. The more we see, the more we learn, the better we protect.

While the platform grew, we did not slow down innovation. We added Cloud Sandbox, Cloud Firewall and Zscaler Private Access along the way, delivering a transformative security as a service platform to our customers. The market started to see Zscaler as eliminating the need for traditional on-premises security appliances that are difficult to maintain and require compromises between security, cost and user experience.

Our IPO is a big milestone commemorating how far we have come, and signaling where we must go. As I take a moment to reflect, I am reminded of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that has always inspired me: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

To the men and women in the Zscaler family, for being in the arena, for daring greatly, for serving a worthy cause, and for winning with humility, thank you.

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