September 1, 2001

14 Min Read
WEB Speed

By Khali Henderson

Posted: 09/2001

WEB Speed
The Hot Value-Add for Content Delivery

By Khali Henderson

What if you–you and the other 1,132,400 readers of The New York Times–had
to traverse congested highways and city streets to the newspaper’s headquarters
at 229 W. 43rd St. in New York City every morning to get your copy of the day’s

Well, for certain, there would be a line and a significant wait. The good
news is that every day there would be fewer and fewer customers in line. The bad
news is that there soon would be too few of them to support the publication, and
it would fold.

Obviously, this is not the way to run an information business. Yet it is
analogous to what happens on the Internet every day.

When a browser requests information from a website, it travels the
Internet–potentially crossing hundreds or thousands of networks and peering
points–to get to the origin server where the data are stored. "To download
one page, you might cross the Internet 45 times," explains Nancy Voke,
director of product marketing for Akamai Technologies Inc. "You’re doing
that, and at the same time, there might be 100,000 other people doing the same

That, says Voke, creates what communications veterans are fond of calling a
"bottleneck" at the origin server.

Going back to the newspaper analogy, The New York Times has set up a
distribution network for its paper to avoid a potential bottleneck at its home
office. The national edition is printed at 13 sites and is distributed to
readers through newsstands and, for many, to their front porch.

Information dissemination in the Internet age is beginning to follow a
similar model using specialized content-delivery networks (CDNs) like those
operated by Akamai and rival Digital Island Inc.

"The way content delivery works, in its stripped-down sense, is that you
put servers–many hundreds and thousands of them–around the world, and they are
connected up to a company’s website–what’s usually called an origin server at a
hosting site–to pre-place information that is frequently accessed," says
David Radoff, director of corporate communications for Digital Island. "So
what you are doing in effect is, instead of [requiring people to go] to the home
office every time [they] want to get an article, you up newsstands that are
close to where people can pick them up and, therefore, you do not have a crunch
at the door and a lot of queuing effect."

CDNs generally are composed of hundreds of small caching servers placed at
the edge of the Internet, or, in the case of Mirror Image Internet Inc.,
strategically placed servers that aggregate traffic at content access points. In
a classic scenario, the servers would deliver the graphic elements of a website
to speed download times. CDN operators also typically monitor the network and
route traffic in an optimal way. More recently, CDNs also have begun to process
dynamic content, streaming media and even transactions at the edge.

"Plain vanilla caching solutions are giving way to content distribution
management systems from Network Appliance and Inktomi, which enable caches to
assemble web pages dynamically based on users’ cookies," says Seema
Williams, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. "WARP Solutions even
offers a product–the edge transaction accelerator–that distributes the process
of transactions to the edge of the network, helping websites scale up to user

CDN services, which are projected by the High-Tech Resource Consulting Group
LLC to grow to more than $2 billion by 2003, are going to be offered
increasingly through or by resellers that include network service providers,
managed hosting providers and systems integrators. There are fewer and fewer
stand-alone CDNs; witness the recent acquisition of Digital Island by Cable
& Wireless Communications plc. In addition, the leading CDN operators all
have reseller or partner programs (see table, below). In addition, there
are converging content-peering initiatives that promise to facilitate wholesale
traffic exchange.

This is because it’s simply very difficult to replicate an effective CDN.
"When you look at content-delivery services, one of the problems with
competing is this ubiquitous closeness to the customer," says Neal Goldman,
director of Internet computing strategies for The Yankee Group. "So if I
only have caches on my own network, that’s not providing that good of coverage
to the ultimate content owner as the Akamai network."

Akamai announced in mid-July that in second quarter 2001 it extended its
network to include 11,689 servers, up from 9,743 in the first quarter. Akamai’s
servers now are deployed within more than 820 networks in 62 countries,
including Internet backbone providers, ISPs, cable and DSL providers, and other
telecommunications facilities.

Akamai is widely regarded as the market-leading CDN, much to the
consternation of executives at Digital Island, which has 2,550 servers in 327
networks in 34 countries. Philosophically, technologically and operationally,
the two companies are far apart (further, a lawsuit filed by Akamai against
Digital Island for patent infringement is expected to go to trial this month).
Although Akamai espouses moving all web activity to the edge, Digital Island
does not. While Digital Island supports network interoperability, Akamai does

Kurt Merriweather, senior marketing manager at Digital Island, attributes the
differing approach to the nature of the companies’ respective assets: "The
asset that Akamai has is their server deployment and the software they use to
run that asset, whereas Digital Island as a company has hosting assets, network
assets and content-delivery assets. Given the three bottlenecks that exist on
the Internet–the origin server, the Internet backbone itself and the edge,
there are different ways to optimize performance on a website. We have different
dials that we can turn in order to improve the performance of a website, so it’s
not all about getting everything to the edge."

Akamai’s Voke says, "We don’t believe that anyone else’s solution helps
you solve delivery across those four bottlenecks [first mile, last mile,
backbone and peering points] that exist in the Internet. You can purchase a lot
more hardware. You can mirror your sites. … You can go out and buy a lot of
bandwidth, but that doesn’t help you relay your information over the Internet
during the busiest periods of the day. That doesn’t help the end consumer see
their content any faster. By placing servers around the edge of the Internet and
intelligently routing content around the bottlenecks and constantly taking a
real-time pulse of what is the health of the Internet right now, … we have a
solution that allows you to do that."

While there are advocates on both sides of the edge debate, Akamai claims the
lead in the network buildout race and downplays competitive efforts at content
peering. "We have found originally [content peering] had a lot of uptake in
the space, more so from the press than potentially by customers," Voke
says. "They have not proven that they can implement this type of a
solution. And we continue to improve our entire network and optimize the
operation of our network, and we feel we have a major head start here."

Voke’s observations are not far off the mark. Content Bridge, an alliance of
more than 20 companies formed in August 2000 to facilitate multilateral peering,
has switched operators three times in the past year–from Adero Inc. to Inktomi,
and now to Digital Island, which took the reins in mid-July only to find that
some of the initial membership had yet to sign contracts formalizing their
participation in the traffic exchange.

"One of the problems with peering is that nobody likes it as a
business," says The Yankee Group’s Goldman. "I could let you onto my
network and you could let me onto your network, but I am afraid that you are
going to take more than I am going to get. … That has been the logic so

Content Bridge allows hosting providers, content-delivery service providers
and access providers to share usage of networks at the content and application
level. Each Content Bridge hosting provider originates content for delivery to
all other members, each CDN delivers all traffic sent to it and each access
provider terminates traffic destined for its subscriber base.

"So, long story short, Inktomi decided for multiple reasons, but the
chief one being that in order to keep the stewardship of Content Bridge, they
would have had to build their own content delivery network, [that they] had to
select someone to be the primary operator, which is the default content delivery
network, if you will, where all the content gets routed," explains Digital
Island’s Radoff.

Digital Island is responsible for billing and settlement, maintaining the
integrity of the Content Bridge network and ensuring QoS across peer networks,
says Merriweather. He adds that the company will use the existing infrastructure
of its own CDN, Footprint, to execute against these obligations and will earn a
percentage-based transaction fee for its trouble.

The takeover may be the needed boost for Content Bridge, says Merriweather,
noting that now there are provisions for performance measurement and no
vendor-specific hardware requirements–two of the reasons for slow traction
among the group.

Consortium member KPNQwest NV expressed public support for the transfer of
power. "We believe public content peering will grow rapidly and greatly
support Digital Island’s decision to take Content Bridge to the next level
through the elements of their content-peering initiatives, said company CTO Julf
Helsingius in a prepared statement.

Another boon may be the recent teaming of Content Bridge with the Content
Alliance, a 100-member group initiated by Cisco Systems Inc. to create technical
standards for interoperability of CDNs. The Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF) has formed a Content Internetworking (CDI) Working Group jointly led by
members of both groups to concentrate on request routing to the delivery CDN,
content distribution between peering CDNs, and usage accounting/billing
settlement among peering CDNs. At press time in late July, the working group
planned to convene at the 51st IETF meeting, in London in early August.

Digital Island’s public peering activities are paired with a new private
peering initiative focused on creating direct relationships between the CDN
operator and telcos, content-delivery companies, hosting providers,
streaming-media services providers and ISPs.

The Private Content Exchange (PCX) program is geared to service providers
that operate a regional CDN and want to leverage Digital Island’s reach when a
request for content is made outside of their network. While similar to Content
Bridge, PCX allows for customization and added features, such as policy-based
routing, intelligent redirection and cache coupling, which allow carrier caches
to be managed by the Footprint network.

The PCX initiative is a departure from the company’s previous channel
strategy. "We had a reseller program last year to offer wholesale
content-delivery services that was strictly focused on anybody who wanted to
resell Footprint," says Merriweather. "We have since modified that
program so that it is focused primarily on service providers."

Mirror Image also has leveraged peering arrangements for its growing
footprint, which currently connects 22 cities in North America, Europe and Asia.
Its resale program, however, remains focused on more traditional partners such
as web hosting companies, managed service providers, systems integrators,
consultants, etc.

The Mirror Image channel program has received a shot in the arm with the
company’s acquisition of ClearWay Technologies earlier this year. ClearWay has
relied exclusively on indirect channels to deliver its FireSite content delivery
technology. The FireSite service includes an intelligent software agent that can
be deployed on a customer’s web server in as little as 10 minutes. Once
installed, the agent software automatically selects the content that can benefit
from acceleration and immediately pushes it to Mirror Image’s InstaContent CDN.

Hal Bennett, Mirror Image vice president of business development, says the
company has about half a dozen resale partners at present. This low number in
contrast to Akamai’s 70, is by design, he says, explaining the company is
seeking relationships with "depth of capability, performance and,
ultimately, revenue."

Currently, Bennett says about 50 percent of the companies revenues are
attributable to its partners.

CDN Wholesalers


Content Types

Network Coverage


Sample Resellers

Akamai Technologies

Static, dynamic, streaming

11,689 servers in 820 networks in 62 countries

The Akamai Platform is the collection of Akamai’s coretechnologies and network footprint. Its FreeFlow and FreeFlow Streaming servicesand EdgeSuite applications sit on top of off-the-shelf servers running Linux orMicrosoft operating systems.

Digex, EDS, IBM, InterNAP, KPNQwest

Digital Island

Static, dynamic, streaming

2,550 servers in 327 networks in 34 countries.

Commerce Content Distributors provide customers withmirroring and caching to regional and local markets. While some content-deliveryservices offer domestic caching or mirroring services, Digital Island ties itsdistribution service together via an integrated global network, therebyproviding a mechanism for global distribution.

AT&T, IBM, NaviSite, LoudEye, Evoke

Mirror Image Internet

Static, dynamic, streaming

22 cities in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific

Patented Content Access Point (CAP) architecture combinesMirror Image’s internally developed technology and external equipment, includingHewlett Packard 9000 Enterprise Servers, Cisco 7500 Series Routers, Oracle 8idatabases, as well as hardware and software from Sun Microsystems and others.

Exodus Communications, Diveo, iNNERHOST, HostCentric



Using content management, multicasting and intelligentcaching, Orblynx has developed the Internet Distribution System (IDS), amulticast distribution service composed of two key elements–an IDS Warehouse,which collects, stores and manages content; and an IDS Server, whichintelligently delivers web content to end-users.

Orblynx is targeting Tier I, II, and III ISPs in Brazil,Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and Columbia.

Akamai also reports a significant and increasing contribution from its
partners. It claims resellers generated 22 percent of its revenues in the second
quarter, up from 17 percent in first quarter. Voke says resellers are a
"critical part of our go-to-market strategy."

The company has two flavors of resellers–traditional and OEM. Traditional
resellers offer a jointly branded product to content providers, while the OEMs
incorporate the Akamai platform as a component of a complete service. Voke says
99.5 percent of Akamai’s resellers fall into the traditional category. Among
them are Digex Inc., IBM Corp., EDS, KPNQwest, Telefonica S.A. and new client XO
Communications Inc.

"We saw this as very complementary to our existing product
offering," says Natasha Burkoff, dedicated hosting product manager at XO.
"Some of our sales people were coming back to us saying this would be a
great thing for us to be able to sell along with dedicated hosting. For us, it’s
a nice bundled solution."

Burkoff explains that as a hosting and network provider, XO can "consult
with clients to make sure that they have sufficient infrastructure. We control
how much bandwidth goes into our data centers and how traffic moves across our
backbone and our peering relationships, but once it leaves our backbone, it is
out of our control. Generally, traffic will need to go across at least one, if
not multiple, ISP backbones before it ultimately reaches the end user. So I see
value in moving content closer to the end user. It is something that is going to
increase the performance. Anything that is going to increase the performance for
our customers, obviously in our minds, is a good thing."

For now, XO does not operate any of its own caching infrastructure, and it
relies exclusively on Akamai. "If you look at Akamai and how much money
they have invested in developing their technology and building their network,
anything that we did would be on a much smaller scale," says Burkoff.
"So for us, we thought it made more sense to leverage their resources and
their technology and their expertise and add that to our existing

The hosting and network services provider signed on with Akamai in June, but
by July it already had clients waiting to be turned up on the service. Burkoff
estimated that a CDN reseller could earn between 30 percent and 45
percent–although reseller relationships with Akamai vary in complexity and

Akamai’s Voke says network service providers like XO have a particularly
strategic fit: "We work with them in a multifaceted manner in that we place
servers in their networks, we purchase bandwidth from them and at the same time
they resell our services. So we have some very strategic relationships there and
we expect that to continue to grow in the future."

Forrester analyst Williams says that companies like AT&T Corp. and
Genuity Inc. will continue to turn to Akamai for content delivery. "Private
peering arrangements between carriers like Qwest Communications International
Inc. and WorldCom Inc. will chip away at Akamai’s position, but plenty of
Internet traffic is carried by smaller access providers that will be shut out of
such peering relationships."

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