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Summary:

Update: Akamai spokesperson declined to comment. We are still waiting to hear from Apple. Apple’s holly jolly Christmas, that resulted in extended outages and infuriating delays for customers trying to access the iTunes Store have been well reported. Some of us (guilty as charged) were amazed […]

Update: Akamai spokesperson declined to comment. We are still waiting to hear from Apple.

Apple’s holly jolly Christmas, that resulted in extended outages and infuriating delays for customers trying to access the iTunes Store have been well reported. Some of us (guilty as charged) were amazed at how successful Apple was in squeezing billions of dollars out of its iPod franchise. According to Hitwise, there was a 1,222% increase in traffic to the iTunes store on Christmas day compared with the previous Monday. The traffic to the Apple Store was up 110%.

An AFX report on CNN Money website quoted Michael Gartnerberg of Jupiter Research as saying…

‘What you’re seeing is the tremendous success of the iPod …. No doubt it was a very, very popular gift, and no matter how well you plan on the server side of the equation, there are always times when you get caught short.’

Getting caught short just be the excuse of choice this season. Sony and Nintendo were caught short and did not have enough consoles. Their inability to meet the market demand for their consoles may be excusable since they were introducing new platforms, but Apple with a few successful holiday seasons under its belt did not have to face those issues. So why did they really have the problems at the iTunes store?

Forget what they tell the analysts – Apple is one of those companies which can pretty accurately forecast demand for its products. It is reasonable to assume that Cupertino knew that it would sell a lot iPods. And since the sales of iPods are in near direct correlation with visits to the iTunes store, there is a reasonable chance that Apple also knew that the traffic to the iTunes store would be up sharply.

In other words, someone did not plan properly for this holiday season. Of course, there is another explanation – one of their key infrastructure provider, Akamai Technologies failed to keep up with the iTunes crush.

Akamai’s content delivery network is supposed to keep things up and running without fail. (See how Akamai’s service works!) That is one of the reasons why Akamai can charge premium over others. They often talk about 20,000 servers in 71 countries to make the music delivery seamless and reliable.

If what Akamai promises is delivered then none of us should have experienced the iTunes Store outage. Akamai is betting big on digital music – streaming and download varieties – to make a lot of money for next few years. The iTunes store meltdown certainly is not going to help with that.

Update: Akamai spokesperson declined to comment. We are still waiting to hear from Apple.

  1. So you’re just speculating that Akamai was to blame even though you really don’t know what the cause of the problem was? That’s not very responsible journalism.

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  2. you are an idiot! to make accusations with out knowing the facts

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  3. In the face of a lack of explanation from Apple, what is one to do but speculate? Om speculates, and I think it is fair.

    Let me throw another speculation, though: could it be that Web Objects is finally cracking under the weight of scalability?

    I doubt it, though —after all, Apple’s Web Objects software powers the 4th largest retailer, by dollars, on the internet. By comparison, it is also well known that Amazon (which does not use Web Objects) crashed for 20 minutes on Thanksgiving day, 2006.

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  4. Maybe Akamai does not deserve to be blamed. But Apple sure does. Om is right that Apple didn’t just this year discover what it means to sell loads of iPods for Christmas!

    I also wish to comment on the AFX Report quotation: “no matter how well you plan on the server side of the equation, there are always times when you get caught short.”. Well, I reckon that is not true when you use Peer-to-Peer.

    And let me add 2 speculations:
    1- overload of the DRM servers, cause there’s no limit to the harm that DRM can do to online media distribution
    2- sabotage

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  5. I haven’t seen any detailed descriptions of the problem, but it seems unlikely that there would be a global problem with Akamai limited to Apple.

    I can’t believe suckers are still buying DRM encoded garbage from the iTMS. It would be amusing if that was where the bottleneck was- generating all of the new keys.

    Another more basic problem is that iTunes 7 is perhaps the worst version of iTunes on Windows. Crashes all of the time anyway on my box- it can’t deal with networked drives at all.

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  6. 1200% increase in traffic on xmas day?!?!?!?

    Can you plan for that uptick for a short period of time? I wasn’t a big believer in ondemand cpu services but for apple, on xmas day, it would have been a savior…that is if it actually worked.

    Om, I don’t think Akamai is to blame. Apple uses them and other CDNs and also buys transit and peers so if it was a network related issue, it should have healed itself.

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  7. How is it that Akamai can take credit for all of these media sites running so smoothly, but then when something goes wrong, not a peep?

    Maybe we should ask Om whether he contacted Akamai and whether he got a response.

    If Akamai did not respond with a clear statement that their link in the chain was not at fault, then I will bet my bottom dollar that Akamai was the culprit.

    But maybe I don’t have to bet my bottom dollar. . . it’s likely that Apple will be moving their $20MM+ yearly payments for Akamai to somewhere else.

    I’d watch the news for an Akamai CDN/bandwidth switch sometime soon.

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  8. I’ll type this slow so you can follow…

    Just before christmas Apple needed a certain amount of bandwidth and for sake of discussion we will call this 1. Being a responsible company who expects to grow, they can handle a larger flow than that and knew that bandwidth would increase so they were able to take a bandwidth of 2. On christmas day demand jumped to 12 and in the days following it dropped back to 1.5.

    Why the hell! do you think Apple would spend the money to be able to support a one day bandwidth jump to 12? Apple knew that some people would be slowed and others would have to wait and even that some people would be turned off to the service because of it. But the cost of trying to things ready to handle a 12 fold increase was just not worth it.

    It is just business! It makes no sense to try to handle this one spike.

    Just for reference, today I’m downloading a movie at 2x Real time. So It will take 30 minutes to download an hour of video. Apple seems to be handling demand just fine.

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  9. Well said, doug.

    I see no reason to believe that Apple couldn’t fully predict the # of hits (the spike was much greater than in the past, the spike now includes larger forms of content that had been selling in limited number, and now also includes the need to download the application since most iPods do not feature a CD), plus the simple fact that demand can exceed the practical, and the fact that even if Apple had wished to meet that greater demand, could Akamai have met it?

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  10. Akamai could certainly have met the demand. They have a huge amount of untapped capacity. Part of it is available for situations just like this. After the Windows Vista Beta launch, Akamai went about securing even more bandwidth.

    Taking a look at the source HTML for Apple.com, its clear that not everything is akam-ized. The front page, in particular, looks like it all lives on Apple, and is downstream from Internap. The deeper one gets in the Apple Store page, the more you get from Akamai. However, at all levels, there is a dependence on the Apple IT infrastructure.

    As we have not heard of other akamized web sites having issues, I am deeply skeptical about blaming this on Akamai.

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