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Akamai Zaps Web Content Delivery Delays

Akamai services gain new smarts about end user devices and network conditions, to prevent delays that can happen when third-party servers dish up content.

The Web just got a little more personal. Akamai, provider of one of the largest content delivery networks, is upping the ante with fast, tailored content delivery to end users via a set of enhancements to its edge servers.

The expanded CDN service, dubbed Aqua Ion, implements a variety of front-end optimizations in the network of content servers, which are scattered around the Internet to better reach end user populations. Among other things, the service enhancements can assess the end user's environment and match the capabilities of a Web application to them.

Mike Afergan, Akamai senior VP and general manager for Web experience, said Aqua Ion addresses "situational performance" for web pages and web applications dealing with a wide variety of end user devices. If the end user's network is busy with traffic, the content server can send lower resolution images, minimize the number of chatty, "are you ready" HTTP exchanges that take place several times before actual delivery, and take other measures to improve the speed of end user's reception.

For example, the Aqua Ion identifies the user interface characteristics of the device making a request and gears the resulting content to the screen size and processor capability of the device. It specifically recognizes, for example, whether the device uses Javascript or GPS location-based services.

"The server knows whether it is a fixed device (a wired in PC or laptop), cellular or WiFi, whether it's a desktop in New York or a tablet in Tokyo," said Afergan in an interview. And knowing that, along with network characteristics, allows Akamai to deliver a more consistent user experience.

[ Want to learn how Akamai used Riverbed Steelhead appliances to speed content movement? See Riverbed, Akamai Partner On WAN Optimization For Clouds. ]

One optimization is adaptive image compression, where the server assesses real time network conditions between itself and the end user device, then delivers the appropriate resolution of image at a speed that the user expects. When the network is experiencing congestion, a lower resolution image loads much faster than a high resolution one.

Screen size and type of browser on the end user device are also known, said Afergan. "We can provide a completely different look and feel of the Web site, because of the nature of the device," he noted. In the past, a variation on standard content required going back to the point of origin. Now different versions can be stored on the delivery network server and the appropriate one delivered on demand.

"More and more content is not being served from the site owner's point of origin," noted Afergan. Instead, the content comes from third party servers scattered around the Internet, while remaining essential to the site's owner. In the past, when a third party couldn't deliver content speedily, the page building process paused until it could. With Akamai's enhanced service, the page gets built anyway, with the presentation side fixing the wait for the missing third party and filling in the rest of the page.

Aqua Ion "takes third party delays out of the synchronization path," said Afergan.

Aqua Ion also includes analytics that can predict what the next page to be requested is likely to be, go to the point of origin, retrieve and cache it on the edge server, giving the end user a more consistent experience with less wait time.

Afergan said all the services are built into the standard CDN server. The server environment is called the Akamai Intelligent Platform, and pricing remains unchanged with the Aqua Ion additions, he said.

Find out the nine questions you must ask before migrating apps to the public cloud in the Cloud Ready? special issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: It's time to lay to rest two common myths of the cloud computing era. (Free registration required.)

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