You think the internet is big now? Akamai needs to grow 100-fold

Paul Sagan Akamai Structure 2012
Paul Sagan Akamai Structure 2012

Paul Sagan, President and CEO, Akamai<br />(c)2012 Pinar Ozger

We’ve grown used to the idea that the internet is vast, with zettabytes of information zipping around on global networks and through our mobile devices, but it is still growing at a phenomenal rate — thanks in large part to streaming video, according to Paul Sagan. The Akamai CEO told the GigaOM Structure conference in San Francisco on Wednesday that he expects the already enormous content-delivery network his company runs will need to expand by a factor of 100 times in the next five years just to keep up with the demand for real-time video.

The Akamai network currently handles over 2 trillion requests a day, Sagan said, and about 3,000 hours worth of content every minute — that’s 2 trillion transactions of some kind involving content that needs to be moved across the network from one of the company’s thousands of nodes in hundreds of countries around the world. And the bulk of that isn’t really content but e-commerce, banking transactions, payment handling and so on, which is one of the reasons the Akamai CEO said the term “content-delivery network” is already outdated.

While demand for those types of transactions is also increasing, Sagan said the biggest single strain on the network — as companies and users demand more real-time content — is for video. “We expect demand over the next five years will grow a hundred-fold,” he said, “so our capacity has to grow in order to keep up with that. People expect that video will be a TV-style quality experience, and we need to be able to provide that.” That means Akamai will need to grow its network by 100 times over the next five years just to keep up with demand, he said.

Sagan also said that one complicating factor for Akamai is the multidevice, multiplatform world, where the company doesn’t know what kind of content it is going to have to deliver to a user, or where it is going to come from, or what device or network it is going to have to be delivered to — but people just expect it to work. He compared what the company does to “providing air-traffic control” for 2 million routing requests a day, and said the biggest challenge for the future is “can we continue to live up to the promise of the instant internet?”

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