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Akamai Gets Ready for HD Video

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[qi:013] Akamai (AKAM), under pricing pressure from upstart rivals such as Limelight Networks (LLNW), is upping the ante in the content delivery network wars. The company yesterday announced a new distributed delivery mechanism optimized for the delivery of high definition-quality content online.

The push for HD video over the Internet is a way for Cambridge, Mass.-based Akamai to get an edge over the increasing number of commodity CDN service providers. The company is using technologies from its recent acquisitions of Nine Systems and Red Swoosh for this new effort, which it describes as a “distributed delivery model.”

Akamai Chief Technology Officer Mike Afergan told us that many of the company’s media clients are now producing content in HD and are looking for ways to distribute it over the Internet. Higher quality video isn’t likely to make its presence felt on Web video communities (such as YouTube) anytime soon, but companies that make television shows and films have an eye on HD.

“People are getting used to HD content on their televisions, and they have similar expectations for Internet delivered video as well,” said Afergan. (Related post: Is Web Video Ready for HD Upgrade?) Akamai’s new service is optimized to deliver videos with resolutions from 720p to 1080p and 1080i.

As part of the new effort, the company is going to be working with Internet service providers to get even closer to the edge, use distributed delivery mechanism (the kind that made Red Swoosh so popular for large file downloads) so as to reduce latency in the network and make both downloads and streams faster and more stable.

Without a CDN, the file travels from a video server inside the data center through a virtual spaghetti of networks, before arriving at your your computer or set-top box. In short, there are many points of anxiety along the way. If using a CDN, in most cases the video files are served from storage servers inside the CDN data center and are sent directly to the access network of, say, a cable company. The files are served out of the location closest to the broadband subscriber seeking to download a file.

Afergan argues that CDNs are even more important when it comes to distributing larger files, especially the HD kind. A typical 2-hour feature-length movie would need to be encoded at a bit rate of at least 6-8 megabits per second, which would result in a file of 5-8 gigabytes in size.

While broadband service providers like Verizon are putting fiber-based broadband connections in place, there are a large number of folks who are using connections in the 3-6 Mbps range. The solution, Akamai argues is to come closer to the end user. Why? Because as the distance from the server increases, the throughput is dramatically reduced – even a slight distance increase can result in delivery problems.

In order to achieve this, the company is going to beef-up its infrastructure and for that it would have to spend money – a fact that got Akamai into trouble with some of its public shareholders. But with HD video looming large, it doesn’t seem like the company had much of an option.

19 Responses to “Akamai Gets Ready for HD Video”

  1. Jason

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  2. oh come on, lets get real. we are still dealing with last mile issues. HD… take a look at apple movie trailers, they use akam… they stream flawless at HD eh?

    we need some more sober people that take into account the real world and current infrastructure…web2.0 need not be a bubble.


  3. I agree with Yaron (and I actually use Pando myself) that P2P apps can fix this on a sharing level. But for distribution there has to be some DRM integration.

    I think a cable operator could hedge their bets against a broadcast to file distribution transition risk buy actually buying a big chunk of Akamai…..

  4. Thanks Om for this sign-of-the-times post. It seems everyone is talking about HD video these days but few understand the potential impact on current Internet infrastructure. If you really want 720p videos to “just work” on a large scale, you need to re-think your delivery service. You need to not only be closer to the consumer device, you have to be on it. Akamai is a company with perhaps the best perspective on the real world math here and its great to see them embrace P2P as a solution for the future, today.

    Peer-assisted content delivery services like Pando ( that work as an add-on to your existing CDN are ideal for transparently offloading the heavy lifting of HD video delivery to the collective bandwidth and storage of your viewer base. We need a standard that works natively with all CDNs, not different flavors of P2P per CDN. Consumers won’t tolerate it.

    We’re getting there.

  5. We’re so ready for something like this. Not sure if Apple and Akamai are still an item (thinking so from looking at the Akamai delivered graphics for But, if so, I wonder how this plays for AppleTV in the near term.

    2009 is going to be an awesome year for HD! Let’s just skip 2008… Who wants to watch an election year in HD anyway?