Akamai Ventures Into Web-Application Acceleration - InformationWeek

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5/2/2005
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Akamai Ventures Into Web-Application Acceleration

New service helps companies speed up Web-site applications used by customers and business partners.

Akamai Technologies Inc. is offering a new service to speed up delivery of application services running on Web sites, giving companies a chance to tighten their interactive links with distant employees, business partners, and customers.

Unlike on-site application-acceleration technologies, Akamai's approach requires no upheaval or reengineering of applications already running in the data center because it's supplied as an outside service that customers plug into. The gain in speed comes from interrupting the standard IP and substituting a higher-speed network connection between Akamai servers and the customer's data center. The result is that applications running on a distant Web site appear to be responding from a location just down the block.

Akamai is already known as an Internet speed-up company with its network of thousands of caching servers distributed around the world. But it has built its reputation on speeded-up delivery of Internet content that it stores on servers near users seeking that content. In many ways, companies have been waiting for a second phase of Internet speed-up, that of quick interactions with applications that are responding to remote, individual needs.

"Accelerating the delivery of Web-application transactions enables our customers to conduct more business online," Akamai chief scientist Tom Leighton says. Early users of the service include Cathay Pacific Airways, the U.S. Air Force, American Suzuki Motor, and the SKF Group.

SKF Group, a supplier of rolling bearings and seals, has its host portal in Sweden, Leighton says. Response times from applications on the Web site dropped from nine seconds to three for customers in Asian markets after implementing what Akamai is calling its Web Application Accelerator. "We route around problems in the Internet," Leighton says, adding that the Akamai system won't send back a "server not available" message.

Those most likely to benefit from the service are companies that prize their Web-site reaction times to business partners or customers seeking individualized, dynamic reactions from those sites. A customer trying to configure a product or a partner trying to see which products work with their own are examples of who would benefit, Leighton says.

Many companies have installed their own acceleration hardware between their data centers and Web servers. But such efforts can only speed up their own internal data feeds to routers on the Internet. They also require extensive tinkering with applications to integrate them into a new hardware scheme.

The Akamai approach requires little change to the existing data center. It's interrupting a user's typical domain name service look-up on the Internet by substituting an Akamai server that can deliver the user query direct to an enterprise's Web site and return the application response at a higher speed than the Internet's chatty TCP/IP. The system uses the public Internet but sits on top of it, avoiding some of its inherent back-and-forth exchanges, Leighton explains.

Akamai charges $6,000 a month for an application speed-up.

Akamai acknowledges that it has competition in the realm of application speed-up: pioneer startup Netli Inc. Akamai's new service helps define an emerging market, Netli CEO Gary Messiana says. Netli has "already occupied this space with a purpose-built system for four years" and enjoys its own lengthening customer list, including Thomson Financials and Millipore Inc.

"We've established ourselves as the clear leaders," Messiana says. "Akamai will have to reinvent the company" to catch up.

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