Structure 09: Akamai's CEO Explains Why the Middle of the Net Is Such a Drag


Structure-090625-1004-D71_4630Running the 11-year-old content-distribution kingpin Akamai, which manages nearly 50,000 servers and optimizes the world’s overtaxed web services, might be a high-profile job for some. For Akamai CEO Paul Sagan, it’s actually his second act — the cousin of science writer Carl Sagan was formerly an Emmy award-winning producer at CBS Interactive. As broadband starts to enable everything from media to communications to commerce, clearly moving from helping produce the content to helping quickly and efficiently move it around is a good transition (um, except for innovative new blogging media companies).

Akamai helps its web customers maintain fast connection times, even under the biggest traffic spikes (Obama live streaming inauguration) and halfway around the world. What Sagan has found is that it’s actually the middle of the Internet that contributes to the most drag. Think about it: From the user through the firewall to the database is relatively fast, and the last mile to the user is just a fraction of a second. But the middle of the public Internet, with it’s chatty web services and redundant connections, can add on lengthy delays — as long as 8.2 seconds in Sagan’s example. Akamai solves this problem by effectively creating its own private tunnels on the public Internet and doing other optimizing and overlaying techniques.

And conveniently for us, he also speaks in nice orderly chunks and sound bites. We’ve compiled some of his lists below during Structure 09’s first keynote of the day:


6 Key Ingredients for What Is Cloud Computing:

1. Computing accessed via the Internet — not proprietary networks that enterprises have used before.
2. Outsourced and shared infrastructure — without shared you won’t get efficiencies.
3. Scalable resources that you get on-demand.
4. Metered use — only pay for the piece you use.
5. Need a new level of reporting and insight, plus a new level of security.
6. 10 years of history led us here.

Why the Cloud Is Inevitable:

1. Acceptance of web-enabled technologies, from the consumer side inside the enterprise, IM, social networking, etc.
2. Economics of shared infrastructure is better.
3. It’s a faster way to get applications to market.
4. Security has gotten good enough for public Internet and sharing infrastructure.
5. This model is much more efficient and greener. The IT industry is the fastest growing culprit of the carbon footprint problem.

Cloud Computing Enablers:

— virtualization
— infrastructure as a service
— application platform as a service
— software as a service
— we think the piece that is missing here is optimization layer — that’s Akamai

Top CIO Concerns With Cloud Computing:

1. Security
2. Performance
3. Availability
4. Integration
5. Customization

Video of the presentation is here:

Photo by James Duncan Davidson.


Brett Glass

What this sales pitch for Akamai does not say is that it places its caches and application servers at large ISPs (usually cable companies and telcos) but not at small, competitive ones. This means that the company is actually harming competition by kicking these smaller and competitive providers — who already face higher bandwidth costs, smaller economies of scale, and anticompetitive tactics from the incumbents — when they’re down. It also means that rural Internet users, who tend to use smaller providers, get the short end of the stick: significantly worse performance. Our small ISP has approached Akamai many times and asked them to place a cache at our site, but they won’t even do it if we pay them. It just goes to show, I guess, that if you’re a “kingpin” in anything you tend to ally with other kingpins against the little guy and against the consumer.

O. Berkeley

Carl Sagan was a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell, a world-class scientist, and not merely a “science writer.”


How is “10 years of history led us here.” a “Key Ingredients for What Is Cloud Computing?” It appears as though yet again, Sagan can’t help but talk about the history of Akamai rather than actually say something insightful to the industry. And I’m not sure how creating a “private tunnel” on the “public Internet” solves anything. You’re using the cause of the problem to fix the problem?

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