Fastly, a startup created this year is turning the economics of delivering content on its head with a content delivery network composed of solid state drives. By placing two servers packed with SSDs in each company’s data center, Artur Bergman, Fastly’s CEO, has managed to speed up the load times of his former employer Wikia, as well as a few other customers.
Bergman says he first realized that he had a business model when he was CTO at Wikia, which provides wikis. The site was seeing its load times slow, and it wanted to improve them, so it shopped around to major CDNs to see if anyone could help. The challenge was that Wikia needed pages to load almost instantly, as opposed to every few minutes or a few times an hour. When the season finale of True Blood is occurring, users want their Wiki edits to update now.
But Bergman couldn’t find a provider that was as dynamic as he needed. So, he decided to build it himself. He had previously boosted Wikia’s page times in the U.K. by bringing in two servers and popping them into a rack at a data center in London. That made pages load a little more than five times faster. So, he decided to do the same thing in five other data centers and create his own business.
The company raised less than $2 million (he wouldn’t disclose specifics) in funding earlier this year from Battery Ventures and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and Bergman launched the service in July. It now carries more than a billion HTTP requests a day for customers that include Instructables and
Y Combinator startup Imgix, which bills itself as a CDN for images. But the big disruption here is economic. Bergman can create his CDN using dozens of machines that cost about $10,000. Compared to Akamai, which has tens of thousands of servers in thousands of locations, Fastly is both smaller in scale and in terms of the cost it takes to build out the service.
But Bergman believes his way is as fast as, if not faster than, traditional CDNs for hosting dynamic web content as well as being more transparent to the site owner. Bergman was careful to make a distinction between delivering short video clips such as YouTube content and HD-quality iTunes or Netflix streams, but he’s confident his CDN could deliver performance improvements for the former market and just hasn’t modeled out the latter. CDNs are almost a dime a dozen nowadays, with several services from established players and newer services such as Amazon’s CloudFront and offerings from ISPs to contend with. Fastly’s all-SSD effort is certainly unique though.