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March 2012 Archives

A Few More Tricks From Terra Alta

Last week we introduced Terra Alta to the public (watch video here, under "Akamai's Solution Portfolio") My blog post highlighted analysts talking about the cloud entering its "awkward teenage years" and how Terra Alta is taking on the 4th tier of application delivery to help the "teen cloud" grow up. I also promised I'd be back shortly with some additional insights into new ways Terra Alta helps address application delivery challenges that Akamai previously hadn't been able to impact.

In the past, when our customers have had long think-time applications due to database lookups, Web services calls, or other processing components that slow down origin response times, there wasn't much we could do to help other than speed the content once it was ready to be delivered.  But by then it is usually too late.  The new Terra Alta feature, Akamai Instant, now lets us tackle that delivery challenge head on.  By designating the most likely next pages to be visited by users, Terra Alta is able to start the process of gathering content, making Web service calls, or doing database lookups, before the page is requested by the user, and pre-fetching that content to the edge of the Internet, close to users, prior to the user requesting it.  We've seen this improve the performance of these applications by up to 100% over origin delivery.

We've also had challenges with end users who access accelerated applications from behind centralized DNS infrastructure that make them appear to be at that centralized location.  That means users in Tokyo could appear as though they're in New York and be served content from an Akamai EdgeServer in New York, losing the benefit of Akamai's caching and dynamic optimizations across the public Internet.  Terra Alta's Enterprise DNS Mapping feature allows us to overcome this challenge by remapping users that are behind a centralized DNS to an Akamai EdgeServer that's close to their actual location, such as Tokyo in this case.  Similar to Akamai Instant, we saw performance increases up to 100% faster when using Enterprise DNS Mapping.

The final innovation I wanted to highlight is InstantConfig, which helps to instantly onboard new applications onto Terra Alta without having to do a separate configuration each time. Terra Alta is designed for enterprise use for multiple applications, so this is especially important if there are many applications to add.   Andy Champagne, our VP of Products and Technology for Terra Enterprise Solutions, demonstrated how easy it was to use during the product introduction I referenced above.  He was able to put a new property onto Terra Alta in the blink of an eye, and the result you see here is a decrease in page load time from about 10 seconds down to 1 as soon as he applied InstantConfig.

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That doesn't cover all the ways that Terra Alta can improve your application delivery, but hopefully it piqued your interest.  After its product introduction last week, I was pleased to see some of the positive media buzz from Network Computing, IT Business Edge, and Data Center Knowledge.    If you're ready to help your "teen" cloud strategies grow up, I invite you to learn more here.

Andy Rubinson is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Terra Enterprise Solutions at Akamai

Two things are pretty undeniable when it comes to mobile.

One is that "online" activity (which is a pretty archaic term - most of us don't "go online" anymore; we're already there nearly all the time, even before we get out of bed in the morning) is shifting toward mobile.  Whether you look at the Cisco Visual Networking Index, or the comprehensive, though now somewhat dated, Morgan Stanley Mobile Internet Report, or any of the hundreds of other indicators - mobile traffic is growing exponentially and shows no signs of leveling anytime soon.

The other is that available bandwidth (or, more properly, "spectrum") to deliver mobile experiences is at a premium.  Earlier this month, for instance, Verizon revealed in an FCC filing that without additional spectrum allocation, they will begin to run out of "4G" LTE spectrum by 2013.  Yes, that's right - 4G spectrum will begin to be a scarce resource starting next year.  4G, that new fancy high-speed spectrum that power users covet and that Apple just began to support with its new iPad.

We, as users of mobile devices of all shapes and sizes, are voracious.  We've collectively discovered the convenience and value of accessing web sites and using apps wherever we roam, our expectations are higher than they are for desktop sites, and we want more.  Much more.

Clearly, this unprecedented demand is forcing a radical response.  Mobile network companies are building out capacity as rapidly as they can.  Designers of mobile web sites and apps are doing what they can to "lighten" the amount of data required to deliver meaningful sites and apps that are still highly engaging for users.  But there's only so much that can be done to reduce data payloads before designers start to cut into the user experience.

Our belief is that the best approach to an improved mobile experience is a layered one.  Certainly, working diligently to reduce the data associated with a mobile web page or data payload for a native app is a critical step toward improving mobile performance.  But there's quite a bit more that can be done.

With today's launch of Aqua Mobile Accelerator, Akamai has improved how mobile data is accelerated for companies delivering content and applications, helping improve mobile experiences for consumers and business users of both cellular and Wi-Fi connections. Additionally, Akamai's recent acquisition of Blaze will introduce new front-end optimizations to further reduce data payloads and the number of requests necessary to deliver a mobile web page, resulting in even faster delivery time. And our partnership with Ericsson continues to develop an end-to-end solution that will benefit users where they need it the most - within mobile networks.

The promise of what mobile technology can deliver is still coming into focus.  It's extraordinary how much has come to fruition in such a short time.

And we're just getting started.

M.J. Johnson is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Akamai

Recently analyst James Staten generated a lot of interest when he characterized the cloud as entering its "awkward teenage years," not quite at the point of adulthood, but stretching outside the comfort zone (of enterprises) and experimenting with new ideas.  Today Akamai is introducing Terra Alta, its latest application acceleration product that acts kind of like a finishing school, so to speak, to help refine the cloud and deliver applications more like the adult it's trying to be.  In a way, we're helping the teen cloud find a place in adult IT society.

We've always talked about our "Edge" with EdgeServers distributed across the globe helping to optimize applications and Websites.  But we've focused on the "middle mile," the public Internet, where our platform stretches to reach "close" to end-users, datacenters, and cloud providers.  With Terra Alta, we're recognizing that "close" is no longer good enough.  We've made a giant leap, extending our optimizations beyond the edge of the Internet and into our customers' data centers, at the edge of the enterprise.  We've virtualized our optimization technology, via a virtual machine (VM) we call Enterprise Edge, which can be quickly and easily installed in the DMZ using Akamai's customer portal. 

Application architecture has previously focused mainly on the database, application, and web tiers, without considering the 4th tier of application delivery, where enterprises insert intelligence to optimize and accelerate those applications to end-users.  However, we believe that for today's Internet-enabled enterprise, that 4th tier needs to extend from the inside the datacenter to all the way across the public Internet.   That last piece, outside the purview of the IT team, is much harder to control and can seriously hamper application effectiveness.  Enterprise Edge's proximity to the application origin allows us to extend across the 4th Tier and do a number of things we could never do before.

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Open-Sourcing Mobitest

I'm excited to announce that today we're open-sourcing Mobitest!

We always saw Mobitest as a community tool. Following the acquisition, we raised the idea of open-sourcing it to the relevant people in Akamai, and it was immediately accepted. And so, roughly a month after the acquisition, we're ready to share the code with the world!

Mobitest? Huh?
If you're not familiar with it, here's a short recap on Mobitest. Mobitest is a unique technology able to measure page load times on real mobile devices. It offers detailed performance information, ranging from total page load times to individual request headers and timings. It can also capture screenshots during page load, and show a video visualizing the page load as it happened.

Mobitest runs on iOS, Android and Blackberry, regardless of the hardware - smartphone, tablet or simulator. It uses the default (embedded) browsers the OS offers, and can measure over any network connection the device is connected to, for instance WiFi or a 3G connection.  The Mobitest agents are installed on the device itself. Once installed, they run in an infinite loop on the device, turning it into a (very) small server. The devices poll a webpagetest server, and you can submit test requests and view results through the webpagetest UI.

We also offer a hosted instance of Mobitest on http://blaze.io/mobile/. This hosted version is a free service that lets you use our own devices to measure, which is easier than setting up your own. What we're open-sourcing today is the mobile agent code (the real technology), but the hosted version is still up and running, and we encourage you to use it.  

Since joining Akamai just over 2 years ago I have had the privilege to meet with Financial Services Institutions (FSIs) around the world and hear firsthand about their opportunities and challenges.  It never ceases to amaze me how performance continues to play such a critical role in this industry, and how passionate and competitive people are about this.  This passion exists firm-wide in many cases, and at the individual level.  People take this personally.

Prior to joining Akamai I was one such person. I experienced the thrill and rewards of making a web site faster, of moving from #11 to #1 on a performance benchmark, and knocking off competitors along the way.

In this two-part blog, I will examine why performance continues to play such an important role in financial services.  Today in Part One, I will dive into user experience.  In Part Two, I will present the ROI of performance - always a challenging topic.  In the future I am going to tackle tablets.  Is the industry meeting the performance expectations for tablet users?  How can FSIs make them faster?  I have some answers.  So stay tuned.

Part One: The Performance Arms Race:
One of the major drivers in the arms races is that the performance expectations of users continue to increase. In fact, a recent study shows that almost 50% of users expect a 1 second page load time.  And don't forget, most of the performance tools and benchmarks only measure the time to the last byte to the browser, and do not measure the actual render time to the user. So if you are happy that your page load time is 1 second on a benchmark, remember that time is likely double to the user looking at the screen.

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Major sports brands have always led the way when it comes to leveraging technology to reach fans in more engaging and interactive ways. True fans never want to miss a moment of the action and as a direct result, the Super Bowl was streamed live for the first time last month and more than 2.1 million people watched, NBC said.
Next up is the big college basketball tournament happening throughout March! This year, fans can watch all of 67 games live on the Internet across more devices and platforms. Did you know there were 256 million Internet-connected devices in the market in 2011, according to InStat? During last year's tournament, 30% of streams were delivered to iPhone and iPad applications alone, and that doesn't even account for all the other mobile devices and tablets users can engage with.
So this begs the question, how will you as a fan engage with the games this year? How connected are you when it comes to watching your teams vie for the win? Tell us about your viewing habits with this quick survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XSFPVH8

Thanks for your time, and stay tuned to see the results!

Life after Akamai - Responsible Electronic Waste Management

The Internet has enabled massive dematerialization of traditional brick and mortar industries through the emergence of online services such as shopping, banking, communications and entertainment.  However, this success has been accompanied by rapid growth in the Internet's own increased material consumption and waste generation.  Akamai is front and center in the Internet industry (albeit behind-the-scenes!) and has been working diligently to get in front of this challenge by implementing socially - and environmentally - responsible reuse and recycling initiatives. 

In 2008, Akamai launched a sustainability initiative to actively address and manage the growing environmental impact of our operations.  It was clear early on that the decommissioning of network and corporate electronic equipment such as servers, laptops and monitors, was a significant aspect of this impact in the form of electronic waste ("e-waste").  Our platform was growing at a rapid rate and, hence, so was the amount of equipment we were decommissioning.  But, we did not monitor the fate of this decommissioned equipment other than that it was being shipped to one of our asset management (e-waste) vendors or stockpiled in a warehouse, which was not only of no value to anyone but also a cost to Akamai.  Where did the equipment really go?  Did it have residual value?  Was it properly disposed of?  These were important questions for both good business and sustainability management.   

The first step was to educate ourselves about electronic waste and its proper disposal.  As one might expect, we became familiar with the Basel Action Network (BAN).  Through BAN we learned about the potential hazards (no pun intended) of electronic waste disposal including the negative impacts to remote communities, as depicted in the photo below, as well as potential security and reputational risks to Akamai.  BAN through its e-Stewards initiative developed a certification program for asset management companies.  This certification program helps Akamai verify that the vendors we are using and their downstream vendors comply with a set of standards that ensures the secure and socially- and environmentally-responsible disposal of our electronic waste.  The U.S. EPA has a "Responsible Recycling Practices" (R2) certification program that tries to achieve similar aims.  The e-Stewards certification was invaluable to Akamai because we would not have had the resources to conduct this level of due diligence.  After a thorough evaluation process we selected several e-waste partners.  We are also developing internal procedures and training materials to help ensure that 100% of our electronic waste is processed through these certified partners. 

Akamai's sustainability strategy around material consumption is first to reduce consumption as much as possible followed by reuse and recycle.  Our e-Stewards-certified vendors help us achieve the latter two by reselling equipment that has residual value, turning what was a cost into an asset, and recycling as much recovered material as possible with minimal to no landfill.  We quickly expanded the program to include our decommissioned corporate electronic assets.
Akamai is now processing tens of thousands of electronic assets annually, confident that we are recovering their full economic value, supporting employment in remote communities while reducing social and environmental impact. 
More information about Akamai's overall environmental sustainability initiative can be found here:  www.akamai.com/sustainability, or you can contact Nicola Peill-Moelter, Akamai's Director of Environmental Sustainability npeill@akamai.com.

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Remote communities negatively impacted by the irresponsible disposal of electronic waste.
Source:  http://inhabitat.com/electronics-recycling-101-the-problem-with-e-waste/

Nicola Peill-Moelter is Akamai's Director of Environmental Sustainability

I have been on my flight out to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference as I write this, and have been thinking about how greatly our lives have been changed by hyperconnectivity. Do you feel like your lives have been impacted in this new era of devices? In which ways? Share your stories with us. I have been following Apple's product announcements today over my non-PC device via wifi on the airplane.  Apple kicked off mentioning that it sold 172M post PC devices last year, which now make up 76% of Apple's revenue. 

There is already chatter about the impact the next generation of connected devices will have.  Support for 4G/LTE promises to give users a better experience, enable new apps and experiences, and provide new revenue for the operators... However, it has also introduced the question of more congestion on already strained network resources.  More functionality and higher resolutions are also being supported on connected living devices ranging from the media boxes like the Apple TV to Smart TVs to game consoles, which introduces similar challenges in enabling experiences in the office, local metro, or home due to increased network contention. 

Every user who starts up an app or browser is fighting with every other user's demand, and most users are multi-tasking with multiple apps and browsers.  While we at Akamai have been working on technologies to address these and other challenges, the pace of innovation across industries and Eco systems is likely to continue to create a more rapid pace of challenges. How are you addressing these challenges where you work? Share your innovation stories.

Sent from my mobile device, on wifi, on an airplane... Please excuse typos

Kris Alexander is Akamai's Chief Strategist for Connected Devices and Gaming
I promised to return with some results on our new Akamai/Riverbed partnered SaaS acceleration solution, the Steelhead Cloud Accelerator.

First, let's examine the challenges that SaaS applications add to end-user performance and productivity.  Unlike origin-based applications, a branch user attaching to a SaaS application has unique challenges.  In 80% of the use cases globally, that branch office user is forced to traverse the private WAN back to a HQ or "hub" where Internet access is concentrated.  This "back haul" of user traffic is impacted by all the WAN challenges that Riverbed solutions exist to solve including latency, lack of capacity, congestion and application inefficiencies.  Riverbed's technology works at the IP and TCP layers, provides huge data reduction using data de-duplication, and solves the chatty and inefficient layer 7 application protocols using protocol prediction and optimizations.  

However, as the target for the user traffic migrates over the public Internet, there's now an extremely unpredictable, inefficient, and uncontrolled mesh of networks for this critical business application traffic to cross. Even in the 20% of cases where the branch office connects directly to the Internet, SaaS providers have a finite set of data centers and unable to provide nearby facilities to most end-users. Furthermore, ISP link capacity is still limited, and migrating end-users to SaaS only compounds these limited connections causing congestion, collisions, and ultimately significant degradation of any application leveraging the link.  The diagram below illustrates this public network challenge.  When we connected to our Office 365 instance in Chicago, traffic was routed to Texas and Chicago.  This inefficient route, the result of BGP shortcomings, resulted in significant latency (85+ milliseconds) and double-digit packet loss.  When Akamai enables SureRoute, the traffic takes a direct path, reducing latency to 25 milliseconds and packet loss to 0.

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At eTail last week, one dominant theme continued to challenge retailers and vendors alike: how to create rich, engaging and consistent experiences across all customer touchpoints.  And how to ensure those experiences flip the focus to the customer, versus products, brands or channels.

We are truly in the era of YouCommerce and the new shopping experience must be where the shopper is, and with the full context of what they've told us. The YouCommerce customer engagement model has four fundamental tenets: Personalized, Localized, Authentic and Holistic.

Personalization was the talk of the conference, with enthusiasm for Pinterest not only because of its incredible growth - hitting 10 million uniques faster than any site in history - but the introduction of a new interface for curated, personalized content.

The rise of Big Data is also driving personalization.  Panelist Gareth Gatson, SVP of Global eCommerce at Wyndham, noted that the Big Data challenge was not how to get data, but how to best use it.  And Ajay Agarwal from Bain Capital suggested that in five years, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs as they look to capitalize on the data opportunities to personalize and advertise in new ways.

Smartphones. Tablets. Sofas and shopping aisles. Mobile devices offer the single greatest opportunity to capture shoppers at their moment of impulse. It's also the single biggest threat to bricks and mortar retailers since the online channel emerged. The irony is the threat is paralyzing some retailers from capturing the low hanging fruit offered by mobile. Dana Settle of Greycroft Partners remarked that less than one third of retailers offers a tablet-optimized websites. Tablet shoppers go online more often, convert at higher rates, and spend more than any other device segment.

And the experience on these mobile devices is still lackluster at best. Tom Leighton, Akamai's Co-founder and Chief Scientist, remarked in his keynote that we've gone backwards - with the top 30 mobile sites as slow as the top 30 desktop sites back in 2001, despite 71% of users expecting a site to perform as fast or faster than that desktop site today.