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A year after they announced their partnership, IBM and Akamai have launched their first joint service--a combination of Akamai's network and IBMs DataPower appliances that they said can accelerate any cloud application.
The service is available in two flavors, one for enterprises and one for SaaS providers, and the two are asymmetric and don't depend on each other. Because all commercial cloud providers are based on the same standard Web services technology, customers of the enterprise version should see an improvement with every cloud service they use--even those where the service provider isn't an IBM or Akamai customer.
The enterprise version is called IBM WebSphere Application Accelerator for Hybrid Networks and consists of an Akamai data transport service bundled with the IBM DataPower Edge Appliance XE82, a new version of IBM's DataPower SOA appliances adapted to act as customer premises equipment. The theory is that Akamai's network can already accelerate Web traffic by bypassing the Internet, but it still leaves a final hop from the Akamai point-of-presence to the customer site.
"We needed to expand the reach of the Akamai infrastructure by another hop, to a termination point inside the enterprise network," Corey Scobie, IBM's chief strategist for application optimization, said in an interview. "There's a fundamental loss of control when enterprises use cloud services, and we want to return that control to the CIO." The number of DataPower appliances needed depends on the number of sites--a small company with one data center can use just one, while a large global enterprise can spread them around across the world.
Many customers already accelerate Web applications of all types by using services like Akamai's or products like the DataPower appliance, but IBM emphasizes that the partnership isn't just bundling. "It's about technology cross-pollination," said Scobie, "The appliance is a subset of Akamai's network."
Though the XE82 appliance uses the same hardware platform as other DataPower appliances, its software includes some Akamai technology for optimizing cloud services in addition to standard functionality such as a Web application gateway, SSL termination, HTTP compression, content routing, and deep packet inspection. Much of the Akamai technology is focused on routing and finding the optimal point of presence, as constantly changing network conditions mean that the closest one to the data center doesn't necessarily offer the highest performance.
IBM and Akamai also are selling the combination of service and appliance to cloud providers as IBM WebSphere Application Accelerator for Public Networks. The network architecture for this is exactly the same as in the enterprise network, but the flow of data is reversed. The DataPower appliance sits in the service provider data center and optimizes connections between that and the Akamai network. Cloud providers that use IBM WebSphere servers will see additional benefits, as the Akamai network can adjust its behavior based on Websphere performance metrics, a collaboration that was previously announced. Akamai also is incorporating other IBM cloud technology, such as that acquired with integration vendor Cast Iron Systems.
According to IBM, the enterprise service can reduce latency by 30% to 50% for customers of popular SaaS providers such as Salesforce.com and SugarCRM. The exact performance boost is dependent on how much data the cloud application allows to be cached. While caching is ideal for static content and video delivery, it is less useful with interactive applications. To improve performance further, Akamai is building Websphere application servers into its points of presence so that virtualized applications can run anywhere on the Akamai network. This would let cloud service providers or very large enterprises create truly distributed applications, but likely also require a three-way partnership between the provider (or enterprise), IBM, and Akamai.