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Akamai Updates CDN To Boost Mobile Web Performance

Akamai Aqua Ion makes mobile content delivery decisions based on what works best for the end-user's device, location and needs.

With an increasing amount of business being conducted from mobile devices, knowing what type of network a device is on and what content it can handle can be key to providing users with predictable performance. Users disappointed in their interactions with one device might not return again when trying another -- say an iPad instead of an Android phone -- even though the second device might yield a better experience. Figuring out a way to take the complexity out of delivering content and ensure a uniform user experience is a growing business.

Akamai Technologies' content distribution network (CDN) has been a leader in ascertaining the specifics of an end user's inquiry to a Web application or website. In a bid to maintain that position, it recently upgraded its Aqua Ion mobile content distribution system.

Knowing the location and type of device where a user inquiry comes from is fundamental to mobile content distribution. Akamai announced that capability with the launch of Aqua Ion last October. The June upgrade provides the CDN with information on what the user is doing, where the user's requested data is located, and from where the mobile device is connecting with the Web server. In short, Aqua Ion has upgraded the contextual information it acquires before acting on the user's request.

[ Want more on Aqua Ion? See Akamai Zaps Web Content Delivery Delays. ]

Watching what capabilities Akamai builds into Aqua Ion provides a clue as to what users may soon come to expect in the way of performance from their mobile applications. Meeting those performance expectations will continue to be a competitive factor as more companies find they can serve existing customers and acquire new ones over the Web. Aqua Ion can also be used in similar fashion for improving the performance of applications working with desktops.

It's extremely difficult for mobile application programmers to build foreknowledge of the particularities of the end user's situation in an app, said Lorenz Jakober, senior product marketing manager at Akamai. In effect, Akamai is saying user-situation specific intelligence needs to be gathered by the distribution network as an additional service provided to application owners. When that intelligence is derived from the interaction on the network, the content producer and application programmer's task is simplified, Jakober said in an interview.

For example, Akamai's Real User Monitoring takes passive measurements from users' Web experience to generate performance benchmarks for the different types of devices and network segments being used. That information can then be used to deliver optimal performance to a given end user. If a given user network segment is busy with activity, the CDN might decide to deliver lower-resolution images to keep response times short. Aqua Ion also assesses the screen size and processor strength of the receiving device before making content delivery decisions.

Aqua Ion uses enhanced front-end optimization to do such things as domain name service pre-fetching, which pulls together TCP/IP addresses for a set of URLs contributing elements to a single page. This relieves potential third-party response bottlenecks. It also knows when and how to use placeholder images to deliver a usable page to an end users, rather than forcing them to wait for full arrival of a high-resolution image.

Aqua Ion features suppressed headers for uplink traffic reduction (SHUTR), an extension to the HTTP protocol developed with Qualcomm Technologies, a subsidiary of Qualcomm. SHUTR reduces the size of HTTP request headers sent by a mobile device agent, which in turn speeds page downloads and reduces the amount of traffic on the network. Devices need to be equipped with Snapdragon processors to take advantage of SHUTR. Qualcomm manufactures Snapdragon CPUs to use the ARM instruction set but yield higher performance in multimedia downloads.

Aqua Ion also knows whether a device is on a LAN, cellular or Wi-Fi network, which can also help response times and performance.

"An organization can understand what the users' experience is from all the different devices they use ... From the real-world experience, it can understand how to optimize their applications over all these situations," said Jakober.

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