Akamai Enters the Data Center

Service provider goes on-prem to help enterprises improve IP application performance UPDATED 10/9 11:10 AM

October 9, 2007

4 Min Read
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Akamai, the service provider whose optimization techniques are collocated with major Web content providers worldwide, is moving to the data center.

"Another way to optimize your WAN is to take traffic off the WAN and substitute the Internet," says Akamai senior product marketing manager Neil Cohen. In Akamai's case, "the Internet" means the Web accessed via Akamai's hosts, which are equipped with a range of optimization capabilities, including ones acquired with Akamai's purchase of Netli in February 2007.

Enterprises with any IP-based application can gain up to 5 times current performance for wireline and wireless users by tapping Akamai's service, the vendor claims.

It works like this: A customer wakes up one morning, determined to bypass any talk of WAN optimization hardware and instead to improve IP application performance by switching to Akamai's service. IT installs a pair of plain-vanilla x86 servers equipped with Akamai's Linux-based software into the data center and changes the hostname DNS for all end users to the Akamai address.

Bingo! Akamai links enterprise customers with Internet-based IP applications to its 27,000-odd Web points of presence worldwide.Akamai's software achieves faster response times by optimizing Internet routing, the vendor claims. Its server-based software opts, not for the default shortest path first as data traverses the network, but for a route that may look longer on a map but turn out to offer better response time. "We find good latency and an available path," Cohen states. Akamai also adds transport flow optimization and protocol optimization, he adds.

On the downside, the service doesn't address the branch office, as do wide area file service (WAFS) products. "That's still the domain of Riverbed, Cisco, Packeteer, etc.," writes analyst George Hamilton of the Yankee Group in an email to Byte and Switch. "But it does give Akamai a broader set of performance-enhancing services that they can target at enterprises."

The service also isn't cheap: Akamai won't give specific pricing, but Cohen concedes that charges by application will be "akin" to what service provider customers pay for Akamai's Web application acceleration service -- about $15,000 a month.

Akamai argues that its service requires no client-side software, no expensive hardware to maintain, and a fully global network for international organizations -- adding value to the pricetag.

At least one customer says he's actually saved money with Akamai's new service. Faced with increased demand from a highly mobile customer base, Scott Cutler, executive vice president at AppRiver, an email security and Outlook Exchange managed service provider, turned to Akamai instead of building out several new data centers."We looked at a few options, but no one but Akamai had the part we were trying to get at: protocol optimization and optimal routing," says Cutler. WAN optimizers and other solutions would have called for some form of client-side software, he says, an impractical solution for his company's audience of highly mobile email users. "It's completely transparent to users."

While he won't specify what he's paying for Akamai's service, he claims that building new data centers would have cost his firm four times what they paid for the service.

AppRiver is one of three customers that have opted to buy or trial Akamai's new service. Like AppRiver, the two others are application providers in their own right, including Phase Forward, a data management provider for clinical trials and drug safety testing, and Talisma, a software maker specializing in online customer interaction management (CIM) applications, which also offers hosted services.

What's missing here are companies in financial services and other business areas that don't resell services of their own. Will they be willing to shift from a VPN model to Akamai?

That question is open. Akamai appears to have struck one of the first moves in the market for application acceleration services for enterprise customers, so results are still unfolding. But Akamai's chief competitors among CDN (content delivery network) providers, including Limelight and Level 3 Commmunications (which bought the CDN business of Savvis in December 2006), aren't offering exactly this kind of service -- yet.Still, competition is fierce, and it's not likely Akamai will remain alone for long. Besides addressing a hot new market, enteprise services have the potential to improve service margins, a key tactic in the CDN space. Others won't lag far behind.Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Akamai Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: AKAM)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Level 3 Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: LVLT)

  • Limelight Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: LLNW)

  • Packeteer Inc. (Nasdaq: PKTR)

  • Riverbed Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: RVBD)

  • Talisma Corp.

  • Yankee Group Research Inc.

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