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Akamai Pushes Web Content to Edge

Content Distribution Overlay Independant of Tier 1 Backbones and Peering Is Created Using Proprietary Tools Based on DNS

Avi Freedman as Chief Architect Heads Effort to Place Servers in Networks of 1,000s of ISPs Worldwide via Incentives of Bandwith Saving & Better Response

pp. 1- 12

Rapid and reliable delivery of web-based content anywhere in the world has become one of the most critical issues in enabling the continued the scaling of the Internet. Web caching started out in 1996 as an attempt of many ISPs to store locally as much of the content of the web as possible. Each ISP would make its own decisions about what content to fetch and how often to do it. This system created many problems for web content providers because they had no knowledge about what was cached where, by whom and with what frequency. Furthermore, since caching distributed their content to many sites, they had no reliable way of reporting to their advertisers how many people had seen the material. It was a hit or miss system that no one was happy with and one that created a major opportunity for others to fill. A year ago Sandpiper and Akamai were the most talked about competitors. We note that since then Sandpiper has been acquired by Digital Island and has been focusing on the rapidly growing field of business-to-business e-commerce, leaving Akamai as the acknowledged leader in general content delivery.

In late 1999 Avi Freedman left his position as Vice President of Engineering for AboveNet to become Vice President of Network Architecture for Akamai. We publish a long interview where Avi explains in detail Akamai's extremely interesting business model. What Akamai does is enabled by a very significant new use for DNS that it has developed.

Akamai it has its own network of DNS servers that keep in contact with each other globally. Akamai's other servers take the web content of Akamai's customers and store it in hundreds and then thousands of copies at the edge of the network as Akamai's global network of servers continues to grow. Akamai solves the problem of the world wide wait by pushing content as close to the end user as possible.

Akamai's network of DNS servers then accomplishes a kind of global air traffic control task of communicating among themselves network traffic conditions in real time to determine which local server to send a user's request to or, in the event that regional traffic problems are interfering with local reachability, how to retrieve the data from a more distant server.

Within a site Akamai figures out what data is not constantly updated. That data is migrated to Akamai's edge servers on a regular basis. The minimum amount of data possible is pumped from the host web sites to the edges, while each edge web server is kept constantly informed of the best path to get to the fresh host data it needs. Akamai charges each web site owner for the aggregate amount of its data delivered to end users anywhere in the Internet. The table (at the end of the interview on page 12) shows how many networks receive what percent of Akamai's total aggregate of content traffic. Its intelligent overlay network of DNS servers that direct web content look up must keep very good statistics so that Akamai knows what to bill each of its customers who pay to have their web sites included in Akamai's distribution network.

Akamai has, in effect, created a virtual private overlay of the internet where, as much as possible, it keeps packets on a single network and minimizes their having to flow upstream to transit from one backbone to another (where most packet loss occurs) and them move to the downstream customers of the other backbone. This means that Akamai can go to an ISP and ask to place its servers in the its key POPs for no co-location charge and no charge for bandwidth used. Why? Because it can generally show every ISP how, with Akamai servers locally, its customers will pull far less web traffic across the ISP's backbone that they would if the ISP tried to do its own caching. Or, if the ISP just sent the packets back and forth to the content provider's central servers. In addition Akamai can demonstrate how, in return for nothing more than some co-lo space and bandwidth, the ISP will save bandwidth and give its customers better service.

Freedman also describes how Akamai must deal with the needs of its customer's central servers that are most often located at large web hosting centers at major backbone sites. In these cases he may act as an advocate for the Akamai customer in procuring if necessary some Akamai owned and operated short haul links to ensure that they can have enough burstable bandwidth to meet peak traffic periods. Given his experience at AboveNet which ran this type of operation, he is well equipped to deal with the web based, content provider, the web farm backbone operator and the large number of down stream networks where delivery oriented servers can be placed as close to customers as possible.

Akamai has taken advantage of a narrow window of opportunity to become, in contrast to the older generation vertically integrated backbones, one of a small but growing number of content distribution networks. Such a network hopes to solve problems like the peering problem for a BBN which in the summer of 1998 rebelled at granting Exodus free peering because Exodus dumped more traffic into BBN than it took out.

Bringing Risk Management to the Internet

Lin Franks Explains Issues Involved in Commoditzation --Describes Her Evangelist Role in Management and Training Issues Inherent in Trading Bandwidth

pp. 13-18

Focusing on her role in ongoing efforts to develop a commodity market in bandwidth, we interview Lin Franks of Andersen Consulting. Lin helps to bring a non Internet protocol perspective to the issue of bandwidth commoditization by explaining in some detail her role in the commoditization of oil, natural gas and electricity. In the mid 90s she went to work for Portland General Electric. When Enron acquired Portland in early 1998 she met Stan Hanks. The interview recounts how she worked with Hanks to learn the technology issues for trading bandwidth while techning the internet technical people what skills were necessary to successful commodities trading.

For the past year Franks has been working with Andersen consulting in developing a training program that will acquit executives at the large carriers with the issues behind bandwidth commoditization, make certain that they understand the staffing that must be done to get their companies ready to participate in bandwidth trading, to help them form an industry group that can agree on a benchmark and standard contract and to coach them through the process of carrying out the first trades. She notes that a nascent industry trading association had its first meeting in Washington, DC on March 23.

Although the price of bandwidth is declining, Franks is bullish on its future. She states that "the real disruptive event is the realization by those in the industry that, regardless of technological advances, regardless of their fever to lay fiber across the world, there is really no way that supply is going to consistently be able to keep up with the ungodly increase in demand at which we are looking. Whereas there may appear to be a supply glut right now, bandwidth demand will rise to fill it and will exceed the available supply. Then there will be another technological advance that will increase the available bandwidth supply. Then demand will rise again and so on and so forth."

Use of IGBP in Network Design Disscussed -- Many Variables and Tradeoffs illustrate Complexity of Design Decisions

pp. 18 - 19

From the inet-access list we present a brief discussion on the complexity of design decision issues involving the use of IBGP in network design.

Some ICANN Footnotes

pp. 20 - 22

We present a brief series of ICANN goings that readers won't be seeing in ICANN press releases. The first is the announcement from last October of a new investigation of ICANN by the GAO - one that was announced with such stealth at the time that we missed it entirely and from which we expect very little.

The second is a much more interesting April 7th, 2000 report from the European Union noting with confusion that the Department of Commerce's public position on ICANN is that it is it (DoC) and not ICANN which is in control of the DNS and ROOT. The report complains that U.S. officials nevertheless are still promising to turn over all powers to ICANN by October 1, 2000. It concludes with the expectation that just before American elections in the fall all power will be turned over to an ICANN under the watchfull eye of the Government Advisory Committee. Overall it shows how raw European feelings have become on the subject of American Internet technology leadership.

The third is a brief from London on a presentation by ICANN Board Member Johnathon Cohen in which Cohen is alleged to have said: " It is now believed that there are new policies in place at NSI following the appointment of Roger Cochetti, formerly in charge of electronic commerce regulation at IBM, as senior VP and chief policy officer in February." Yet another IBM monetary contribution to ICANN is announced at http://www.icann.org/correspondence/ibm-letter-24sept99.htm.

Finally the fourth footnote is a brilliant April 14th critique by patent attorney John Berryhill. Berryhill shows the absurdity of the Michael Palage plan to grant trademark interests full sway over a list of famous marks and 20 variants for each one known as the Sunrise proposal. While Berryhill's comments need to be read in their entirety the following excerpt gives a good flavor. "My comments essentially boil down to the fundamental maxim of Law, 'Where there is a right, there is a remedy.' The ICANN Intellectual Property Constituency's various exclusion or 'sunrise' proposals are not in accordance with the remedial nature of the Law. These proposals are for prospective, pre-emptive restraints of the kind that we do not permit our own government to exert in the enforcement of criminal law relating to the use of words. Why should private individuals have greater power in the context of potential civil liability?"

We predict however that, effectively, the fix is in and despite widespread opposition the Board will do what it is told by its trademark masters.