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December 2012 Archives

New Year's Resolutions for the Banking Industry

We're at that time of year again when we sharpen our pencils and write down all the things we want to accomplish during the next12 months. Don't worry; I'm not going to bore you with my personal New Year's Resolutions. Instead, I'll share some quick thoughts on what I believe the resolutions should be for the banking industry as it continues to do more and more business on the web.

Resolution #1: Rethink Internet and Web Security
High profile attacks on banking web sites in 2012  illustrated that despite having defenses in place, and even having forewarning of attacks, many banks were unable to adequately prevent their sites from going down. Banks have watched the size of attacks targeted against them increase in volume - to levels that even the largest banks do not have the infrastructure to handle.

Attacks in 2012 also highlighted how the infrastructure and tools available to the attackers has changed dramatically. A Moore's Law-like rule applies here. Increased Internet connection speeds and 4G for mobile along with video game-like attack tools have made it significantly easier to launch a crippling attack against several targets at once.

And finally, the effectiveness of the attackers in knocking out sites, and in generating media attention, is putting the focus of bank attacks on the "hacktivist" community. Unfortunately, this may ultimately provide a convenient cover for criminals bent on fraudulent money movement, not web activism.

As a result, in 2013 banks will need to consider more effective ways to stop attacks well before they reach their data centers and seek out innovative alternatives to keep their sites available and secure on the Internet.

Resolution #2: Take Mobile to the Next Level
In 2012, small banks, including many local banks with just a handful of branches, produced mobile banking apps with the same convenience features of the big banks. Remote Check Deposit, bill pay, and other features that just a year ago were considered advanced are now table stakes. Interestingly, some of these smaller banks provided such features as RDC to their customers before some of the big national banks.

In 2013, banks should strive to differentiate their mobile apps from their competitors and the focus should be on engagement - getting customers to use their apps more frequently, and keeping the user in the app longer. For example, explore "No login required" apps that do not require a customer to enter a username and password to access their account details. Just like mobile check deposit, once a handful of banks figure it out, it will fast become the next "must have" app.

Banks must consider that the practice of delivering only a limited set of functions to the mobile app is unacceptable and resolve to migrate major functions once only considered appropriate to a web site, to their mobile apps.

Resolution #3: Get a Handle on Big Data
In 2012, big data was all about big hype. In 2013, big data is going to be a big reality. Due to customer reservation and legal privacy concerns, we may just see that in the banking industry, big data will first applied to security in an effort to help protect customers. Banks should explore how to apply usage patterns and behaviors to solve the problems of protecting banking web sites and customer accounts.

Here's to a happy and prosperous 2013.

Happy New Year.

Rich Bolstridge is Akamai's Chief Strategist for Financial Services 

The Hyperconnected Holidays

Once again, we're full swing into the holidays and already beyond the biggest shopping days of the year. Like last year, we should ask ourselves what this means in terms of so many more connected devices coming online that were given as gifts during the holiday season. When these devices are removed from their packaging and connected, everyone involved in the ecosystem needs to be prepared to support the consumer.

In the spirit of the holidays and good fun, I present "The Twelve Days of Hyperconnectivity." I'll just ask that you allow a little leeway to make it work!

The first day of hyper connectivity gave to me, a connected device under the tree
The second day of hyper connectivity gave to me, a fully charged battery
The third day of hyper connectivity gave to me, Wi-fi and 4G
The fourth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, network services connecting
The fifth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, software patches loading
The sixth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, digital goods to shop for
The seventh day of hyper connectivity gave to me, gift codes to redeem
The eighth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, logins and passcodes
The ninth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, lots of apps downloading
The tenth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, lots of music and video streaming
The eleventh day of hyper connectivity gave to me, video games playing
The twelfth day of hyper connectivity gave to me, video chats running

In all seriousness, we are in a world where everyone from the connected device manufacturers and media, gaming and app businesses, to retailers, wireless carriers and broadband operators all need to be preparing. When someone first opens their connected holiday gift, they are going to want to use it, which means connecting, finding the content they want, obtaining the content and using the content. The quality of this consumer experience directly affects all the businesses involved. If part of the experience is poor, the consumer doesn't necessarily know who to contact to solve an issue, meaning anyone in the chain could get support inquiries. And if consumers can't solve issues they run into, then products are returned and exchanged.

Is Your Infrastructure Thinking Too Hard? (Part 1)

Akamai's Enterprise Architects regularly perform site assessments for customers to help maximize performance in terms of speed, scalability and reliability for their Akamai setup and their origin infrastructure. 

The first step in this process is what we call discovery, where we dig deep into the customer's web architecture and website. This allows us to understand the whole story of how the website functions, along with business goals and design decisions.

Out of all of the questions and answers during discovery, there's one particular question that consistently generates a large amount of conversation and high-value ideas. In fact, this question can be the launching point for a number of critical operational exercises like designing a new application, migrating to a new platform, troubleshooting or simply auditing: "How much of your infrastructure do you use when you serve a request?"

That is, how many of your databases, application servers, internal caches, load balancers and front-end servers have to spend time thinking about how to output the requested web page?

The answer varies depending on the request, but the important metric is "origin think time" or how long the origin (your servers) must think about a request once the request is made. If the page is cacheable and can be served directly by (say) Akamai at the edge of the network, the think time will be slim to nil. If it's not cacheable, like dynamic or uniquely-personalized content, your servers will spend a measurable amount of time processing the request.   

I recommend sitting down with a diagram of your web infrastructure and a spreadsheet, and asking the following questions:

•    What are the typical types of requests for non-cacheable data browsers make to my website? In a lot of cases, there might be only 5-6 general types of web pages on a typical site.
•    For each of those types, which and how many of my servers/processes need to process that request? e.g. 1 database server, 1 app server, 1 auth process (on app server).
•    How much wall-clock time does it take for my servers to process the request? Typically measured in seconds, and get numbers for both cold and warm browser caches, averaging multiple requests.
•    If you have the metrics, include a column for how many times a user might access that type of page during a typical session.

Here's an example of what a typical e-commerce site's think-time chart might look like:

Ringel Blog Image.png

This chart will be a good first step in identifying hot-spots in your infrastructure, and give you the insight you need to start doing triage on think-time issues.

In Part 2 of this article, I'll talk about some approaches you can use in your own web infrastructure to reduce origin think time.  

Matt Ringel is Enterprise Architect in Akamai's Professional Services team

Last week, Akamai announced a partnership with AT&T to address the growing expectations of customers for more efficient content routing and better delivery of digital content, video and Web applications.  Addressing the explosive growth in devices, content and traffic, this partnership demonstrates several ways that network operators can leverage CDN capabilities to optimize the online experience for their customers and end-users.

Below is a bit more insight into how carriers can leverage CDN services. 

There are three primary reasons that Network Service Providers consider CDN technology:  1) Traffic Offload; 2) Network Performance; 3) Revenues.  Not surprisingly, those are the same exact reasons why Akamai partners with Network Service Providers. The challenge has always been aligning in a way where industry costs decrease, performance increases, and everyone sells more. And at the same time, provide online content owners and enterprises great performance and end users a better Internet experience. 

Most conversations with network operators start with the need for caching to help address the massive scale to meet the demands of digital media. How can an operator leverage caching in their network to provide the greatest network efficiency, what traffic should they cache, and how does it integrate with the network?  Many operators have different approaches to how this technology should be deployed, and Akamai now has several options, including recently acquired technology from Verivue

It helps that Akamai can aggregate 1000s of customers, and bring 100s of Gbps, or even Tbps of traffic to the table on day 1. Caching obviously produces network efficiency and performance benefits to enterprise customers and end users.  The impact of distributed caching should not be understated, and it helps the Internet run efficiently for all parties.

So if caching deployments closer to the edge of the operator's network help offload traffic and improve performance, where does revenue fit in? While the revenue impact may not be instant, the ability to enable better QoE for an operator's subscribers enhances retention and service satisfaction.  In addition, Akamai views enterprise channels as an important aspect of our long term growth strategy, and access to large enterprise sales teams is definitely compelling. 

At the same time, Network Service Providers are looking to enhance their existing enterprise portfolio and differentiate their network, hosting and Cloud services. Operator CDN has been an attempt at adding value to the network, but CDN services have evolved and a simple delivery service, while certainly needed, is no longer sufficient. Enterprises want services that not only deliver content, but improve service quality, simplify workflow, reach an array of devices, and provide global reach and scale. This revenue potential is part of the synergy that mutually drives network operators and Akamai to create partnerships.

Akamai is thrilled by our relationship with AT&T. While there is a lot of work to do, it brings the potential for added scale, performance, and growth on both sides of the relationship. It is also another proof point in the evolution of our ongoing relationships with Network Service Providers.

Frank Childs is Director of Product Marketing for Akamai's Aura Network Solutions.

November Online Shopping Trends

There are so many numbers and figures circulating since the key online shopping day: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.  But what exactly is the data telling us?  

  1. Online Shopping Trends: when consumers come online to begin shopping for the holiday season, including key dates other than those during Thanksgiving weekend. 
  2. Shopping Habits: whether the online consumers are coming online to browse, research or make a purchase or as part of their omni-channel shopping behaviors. 
  3. Key Browsing Hours: some of the page view peaks, as well as the shopping data peaks discussed in my Cyber Monday post, provide insight from where consumers are likely going online: work vs. home.  

Akamai Online Shopping Trends For November:


I want to hear from you.  What patterns did your brand see?  How will you approach 2013 differently? Which metric is the most important to your brand during this holiday season?

Please leave a comment, tweet @Akamai using #AkamaiHoliday, or to me directly @lyss3b. 

Elyssa Duboys is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Akamai

Is Cyber Monday in the UK a Big Deal?

Monday marked Cyber Monday in the UK; a day projected to be the largest online shopping day pre-Christmas, and second only to Boxing Day in all of 2012.  Visa projected up to 6.8 million transactions on retail sites yesterday, spending up to 465 million GBP.  That figure puts online sales up 21 per cent on the equivalent day last year.  Experian projected the UK will make 115 million visits to online retailers, 36% more than last year's "Cyber Monday" which saw 84.6 million visits.  The final data on growth has not yet been released, but early reports from retailers such as Marks and Spencer suggest that Cyber Monday delivered on the expectations. 

Akamai works with dozens of retailers in the UK, and hundreds globally, and tracks the traffic, in page views per minute, across all retail sites in our Retail Net Usage Index.  To look at the potential surge in traffic this Cyber Monday, we broke out UK traffic coming on all retail sites globally.  Our data suggests that while Cyber Monday was a strong day, perhaps there is more hype in the size of the day than reality.  In fact there are a handful of other retailers, like Sebastian James of Dixons, that are also skeptical of Cyber Monday's allure: "I don't think Cyber Monday has the same power it may have had. It dates back to a time when you had to wait two weeks for a delivery, but now we do 24 hour delivery and will offer reserve and collect up until Christmas Eve."

The chart below looks at the daily peaks and averages of UK retail traffic from the start of November through to Cyber Monday.  While there is a marginal trend of growth in the Sunday and Monday peaks each week (shoppers typically research purchases on Sundays and buy on Mondays), the peak on Cyber Monday is only 6.5% higher than November 11th, during the mid-season sales.  The averages have shifted slightly upwards as well, but outside of the mid-season sales, the trend notably begins on the US Black Friday, rather than Cyber Monday. Does this data suggest that UK shoppers are shopping earlier, and more globally?  If so, there may be an opportunity for UK retailers to capture more of the local shopper's pounds if sales were to begin earlier in November.

Uk Blog 1a.png

Looking at the traffic changes under different lenses lends some additional interesting insights into shopping behavior:

  1. Saturday Belongs to the High Street: Saturdays drive the lowest amount of traffic, repeatedly, week after week.  This is an indicator that shoppers are enjoying the experience of shopping on the high street on the weekends, rather than online retail sites. 
  2. Sunday Research Day: Shoppers first come online in numbers on Sunday night.  This is largely research-driven traffic as shoppers investigate the deals they are most interested in preparation for Cyber Monday.  This is true not just during Cyber Monday weekend, but most weeks of the year.UK Blog 2a.png
  3. Cyber Monday Peaks in the Evening:  On Cyber Monday, shoppers first start to come on in numbers at 7:00 AM, over their morning coffee, and continue coming online in numbers throughout the early workday, peaking at the lunch hour.  In the afternoon, they get back to work, and then head back online again after dinner, ultimately peaking to its highest point at 8:00 PM.

UK Blog 3a.png

We'll wrap up with the highlights on the all the growth reports as they come in.  We'd also like to hear your stories.  How did your site fare this Cyber Monday?  Did your site see new peaks, similar to Marks and Spencer?

Long gone are the days when you could gut-check website performance by running a straightforward synthetic backbone test on a simulated browser. The web has evolved, and the old ways of measuring performance do not line up with how end users interact with today's website.

The web -- and how websites perform in the real world -- are directly related to the various ways users interact with them. I covered this concept of situational performance and why it's important in an earlier post, "Web Performance: Why One size Doesn't fit all." A modern website has to work well on new browsers, old browsers, powerful desktop machines with great connectivity, and a long tail of mobile devices with a broad range of bandwidth situations.

If you care about performance, you have to measure it. If you want to measure it right, you absolutely must keep at least some of the different performance situations you expect to see in mind. Playing this out a bit, your once simple synthetic testing approach just got complex.

Flashlights and floodlights
A good synthetic monitoring solution is like a good flashlight: it gives you visibility to what you're pointing it at and that's just about it. The implication here is that if you want to know how your site performs for IE 9 users on a DSL connection, you can spin up a test and find out. Want to know your site performs for IE 9 users on a cable connection? That's a different test. IE 8? Different test. Chrome? Yup, more tests.

Modern synthetic testing tools like Keynote and Gomez have gotten very good at simulating the end user experience by measuring to the on load event with modern browsers on last mile networks. Despite these advances, the nature of synthetic testing means that monitoring even a small number of situations can quickly get out of control.

Following through with this analogy, if a synthetic monitoring solution is a flashlight, Real User Measurement (RUM for short) is a floodlight. With RUM, you can see how all of your users experience your content. Rather than having to pinpoint your important performance situations (and that's an entirely different can of worms on its own), you can aggregate across all of them and get a good sense of what real users are experiencing.

It is important to stress that RUM is not a replacement for synthetic testing, however. The two can, and should, be used side-by-side. Synthetic testing is key for identifying availability issues, performance issues like a slow third-party, or origin side issues like a misbehaving server.