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The exploding number of smartphones and iPads sucking up video and other rich content poses a challenge for content delivery network (CDN) players like Akamai Technologies(s AKAM), which previewed technologies to address this issue at its annual customer conference on Tuesday.
To satisfy customers, CDNs need to speed downloads and interaction and to make sure web content looks right on itty-bitty screens. Toward that end, Akamai said it will work with NetBiscuits, a small company that specializes in tools that help developers build mobile device-friendly content. The resulting technology will “re-jigger” XML coding so pages will display optimally on any device and be offered as a product or as a service, said Neil Cohen, Akamai VP of global product marketing.
Device proliferation will only continue. In an era of “hyperconnected devices, any device that can be connected is connected,” said Akamai Chief Scientist Tom Leighton. Five years ago, Akamai delivered 3TB of mobile data per day. That number rose to 520TB per day this year, and is projected to hit 91,000TB (or 91 petabytes) per day by 2016.
Akamai and smaller CDN competitors like Limelight (s LLNW) and Edgecast are scrambling to meet the demand for a great mobile computing experience. The scary thing is that smartphones and tablets are just the beginning. More non-PC devices, including household appliances and even garments, will be part of the data scrum going forward. That means more data flowing from more types of devices with all sorts of form factors.
“These devices may be on Ethernet or Wi-Fi or 3G or 4G. [They will be] Refrigerators other appliances. That’s a new challenge for [network] performance,” said Ravi Maira,VP of site acceleration for Akamai.
Maira also spoke generally about a new set of Akamai technologies, code-named “Q”, that will further optimize content “for the right device at the right time.”
Part of Q’s promise is that it will feed back more information about what the end user actually experiences beyond network metrics: “what they’re seeing in their browser or application so you have a sense of what’s happening and filter it by classes of devices,” Maira said. The technology is slated to launch in the first half of 2012, but he provided no other details.
In an interview, Cohen said the influx of new devices will spark more challenges and opportunities for CDNs.
“We’ve seen two inflection points: one five years ago when we morphed to handle dynamic real-time transactions, not just the stuff you can cache. Fast forward to today; more than half our revenue is from non-cached things. Where CDNs go next is the world of pervasive connectivity and offloading content, handling dynamic transactions where there will be a different network type, different screen sizes, maybe [a need for] different network optimizations even on the same device,” Cohen said.
Not everyone believes all these new devices will have a huge impact on the state of CDNs, however.
“Remember, CDNs are a value-added and premier service for content. You spend more for network services when that makes sense, and you look for lowest possible costs when that’s okay. Chances are that a lot of the connections for the device explosion won’t require a premier network service,” said Dana Gardner, principal analyst for Interarbor Solutions. “If your refrigerator takes three minutes to talk to your stove, who cares? If you want good HD video, or secure transactions, or private commerce, then add-on services like Akamai provides are de rigueur. So whether the explosion of devices means an explosion of CDN depends on the economics of the connection, and the requirements of the business case. Where it makes sense, it makes sense.”
Image courtesy of Akamai.