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January 2013 Archives

Mobile Request Multiplexer on the Edge

Over the last few years, the massive growth of smart phones and connected devices has been a key force in driving the hyperconnected paradigm. Cisco projects global mobile traffic will grow 18X in the next five years. At the same time, user reliance and expectations on mobile device are higher than ever. According to Equation Research, 71% of mobile web users expect website performance on their mobile phones to be equal to, or better than, what they experience on their desktops -- up from 58% in 2009.

With the limitations posed by cellular networks and device capabilities, companies face serious challenges when deploying a high-performance mobile solution. Although TCP (Transmission Control Protocol: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmission_Control_Protocol) was designed to work with fixed-line Internet, it does not perform well on mobile networks. Performance is variable and susceptible to degradation based on location and environment. It is difficult for a TCP protocol to detect congestion and perform reliable congestion avoidance due to high packet loss. Additional overheads such as DNS query and TCP slow start further amplify the slowdown for pages containing multiple small objects.

One way to address the above issues is to allow concurrent HTTP requests to run across a single TCP session. This improves page load time over the standard HTTP protocol, but with minimal modifications to the client logic and no deployment changes on the server side. It loosely replicates the stream multiplexing feature inside the SPDY (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPDY) protocol, but can support both the HTTP and HTTPS protocols without additional client extensions or server support.  It can be best leveraged by mobile applications that require a high frequency of small object retrieval, such as maps, online catalogs, or social networking sites.

One solution is for clients to request multiple objects (e.g. images) via a single POST (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/POST_(HTTP))request to an edge server. Upon receiving the request, the edge server will fetch and store objects for packaging and delivery. The POST body included with the client request contains a list of encoded URLs. The edge server functions as a multiplexer/de-multiplexer in front of the existing Akamai delivery infrastructure. These processors are implemented by using Akamai's Edge Side Include (ESI) markup language. The de-multiplexer (pre-processor) will parse out HTTP POST payload, which will be in a structured format and retrieve the specified assets asynchronously from the origin web server. As the assets are retrieved successfully, the multiplexer (post-processor) will serialize the assets along with some minimal addition information (asset identifier, asset length) using a structured binary format and respond to the client with a standard, un-buffered HTTP response. The edge server can also cache the individual assets to improve delivery performance and origin offload.

After the client receives the request, it extracts individual objects from the HTTP response based on the embedded identifiers, and performs page rendering.

CDN World Summit Asia - Will you be there?

CDN Asia begins next week and Akamai's Aura Network Solutions team will be there in full force. It's only natural since the event draws a "who's who" across the industry including CDN service providers (like Akamai), telcos and ISP's, OTT service providers, cable and satellite operators, content owners, etc.
 
We'll be using the event to talk more about what the company is doing in the region, our acquisition of Verivue, our partnership with Orange and our alliance with AT&T. It's pretty clear that a lot has been happening! All of which, benefits our customers. 
 
In addition, Akamai's Mick Scully, VP and GM of the Carrier Products Division, will participate in the event's conference program by presenting "The Convergence of Network, Cloud, and CDN to Build & Differentiate Telecom Services." Mick's session promises to be really enlightening. I'm sure he'd love to see you in the audience on January 29th at 12:20 pm local Singapore time.
 
If you're planning to be at the summit and want to learn more about how Akamai is partnering with international operators to lower their network costs and drive additional revenues, please come by and talk with us. Visitors to the summit can also see demonstrations of the Aura Network Solutions Operator CDN in the Akamai meeting room.
 
The CDN Summit takes place on January 29 & 30, 2013 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. You can find more details and registration information at: http://cdnworldsummitasia.com.

Tara Bartley is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Akamai 

Gigabits to kilobits

Last week, United States FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a "Gigabit City Challenge", calling for at least one gigabit community in all 50 states by 2015.  The FCC's announcement of the challenge cited several existing gigabit programs, including a municipal initiative in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Google Fiber initiative in Kansas City, and Gig.U's initiatives to build ultra-high-speed hubs in the communities of many leading research universities.  Why the need for speed?  Consistent with past discussions around the benefits of high-speed connectivity, the Chairman noted, "The U.S. needs a critical mass of gigabit communities nationwide so that innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness." He added, "Networks cease to be hurdles to applications, so it no longer matters whether medical data, high-definition video, or online services are in the same building or miles away across the state."
This is the first installment in a series of posts that discuss various challenges of online video and how Akamai's Sola Media Solutions can be used to address those challenges.

Live video streaming has become an increasingly important part of the web content universe, as a variety of businesses and organizations attempt to capture 'share of eyeball' and deliver richer, more HDTV-like experiences. From breaking news, to live sports, to video promotions, to historic events like Felix Baumgartner's recent jump from space, more and more people all over the world are counting on live, real-time access via streaming video on virtually every platform, from traditional browsers to mobile devices.

The broad adoption of social media increases the likelihood of rapid, almost instantaneous audience growth. With a few tweets and re-tweets of a live event link, huge audience spikes are easily made possible. If the delivery solution has not been architected for this rapid viewer scaling, the risk of playback failure is high.

At the same time, the quality expectations of these ever-increasing audiences continue to grow. Not only is HD quality for online video desired - it is becoming the de-facto standard for all viewing experiences, from HDTV home viewing to "anywhere" viewing on mobile devices with "better than HD" quality displays.

Internet of Things at CES

The mere fact that a phrase like "the Internet of things" exists essentially ensures that there's going to be a connected something or another anywhere you look at the 2013 CES in Las Vegas this week. With that in mind, I've been keeping an eye out for interesting or unusual examples of connected devices and applications at the show - a task that quickly became daunting given the sheer volume of demonstrations and expansive scale of the event.

This is by no means intended to represent a comprehensive round-up, but rather some items of note that caught my eye during the opportunities I had to check out the show floor.

Worth the weight
Withings, the France-based creators of the first Internet-connected scale, are showing a new "all-in-one body monitoring scale" (front) that tracks weight, BMI, body fat and heart rate simply by stepping on scale, while also monitoring indoor air quality. Withings won a CES Innovation Award for the product, which also features a very sleek, clean design.

scale.jpg

Akamai has been proudly partnering with Best Buy on eCommerce holiday preparations for years.  While we work with many eCommerce IT organizations, Best Buy is notably one of the best - they are forward thinking and innovative, technically savvy about performance and scalability, operationally excellent with extensive monitoring, and have an excellent partnership with their business team.  


In today's blog, I sat down with Andrew Tsai, the Akamai Engagement Manager for Best Buy, to talk about what makes the Best Buy and Akamai relationship so successful, and why Best Buy has an industry-leading holiday readiness model to emulate.  Here's a photo of Andrew - we managed to catch him in one of the rare moments he's not eating a Chipotle burrito (or two).


Andrew.png


[Lelah] I know you love working with the Best Buy team.  How is Best Buy more sophisticated, in your estimation, than other retailers you've worked with?


[Andrew] They understand the benefits of availability, performance, and supportability and how working with Akamai helps accomplish those goals.  When their business team wants bigger events, richer and more dynamic content say around holiday, RewardZone, or a Super Bowl commercial, it's executed with scale in mind.

  

We are part of the extensive collaboration that exists between their marketing and IT teams.  As potential solutions are discussed, compromises are made if needed.  In addition to scale, we do things in a way that we can support and track, so we can react quickly and apply lessons learned to the next event.  Another differentiator is we have an enterprise type relationship with them and they have developed their own internal processes to deal with priorities and chargebacks as we work with many groups within Best Buy.  


Finally, their operations team is excellent and among the best in class we've seen. They have extensive monitoring both at their origin and at Akamai.  Both sides receive each other's alerts, so there is a huge collaboration between us so that either side can respond or escalate an issue quickly.  Internally, they have great monitoring to keep third parties in check, trace individual user sessions, and have a very good understanding of their daily traffic patterns.  They live in our Luna Control Portal, look at traffic and usage reports constantly, and have been known to recommend a few portal enhancements or two.  In fact, before we even notified them, they once identified an Akamai caching change was almost complete because they saw their hits to origin dramatically decrease in real time.  


From my perspective, the Best Buy team understands Akamai and the ROI of leveraging the Akamai platform.  They always ask Akamai first.  It's the difference between being a strategic partner and a vendor.  


[Lelah] When does Best Buy begin holiday readiness planning?  And what are their objectives for the season?


[Andrew] In all seriousness, it begins as early as Q1.  Early in the year, we meet to recap the previous year, brainstorm ideas even crazy ones, and plan out the roadmap for the upcoming year.  Obviously things come up, but it really helps us plan out the year so we have an idea of their initiatives, understand each other's team structure, and determine how Akamai's products and solutions fit in to their initiatives or not.  The real heads down work starts roughly in August and they have a dedicated holiday readiness team who is responsible to make sure we are ready.  


Revenue goals are of course primary, but they really look at offload and performance from an operations perspective.


[Lelah] In the architecture planning, how do you work with them to evaluate their architecture and their key risks?


Best Buy architects with Akamai in mind.  We have weekly calls and we have quarterly reviews on site.  If appropriate, we have access to internal sites and applications and share documentation whenever possible.  We're not afraid to bounce ideas or innovate something new and often engage in quick proof of concepts so we can design with best practices and offload in mind.  They are very smart with lots of cool ideas about how to use the Akamai platform.  In fact, they were one of the integral customers that pioneered Akamai's SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] product.  Our account team loves it as we have a chance to architect and think outside the box.  


[Lelah] Can you give me an example of how they use Akamai to scale?


[Andrew] Probably the best examples are their holiday initiatives for which we are key part.  For their home page and doorbuster sales, they came up with static pages and used NetStorage to ensure that traffic was 100% offloaded to Akamai. Each of these pages was also designed with all types of devices in mind - desktop, tablet, iPhone/smart phones, and basic devices as well - and each of these device-specific pages is stored in NetStorage.  We handled the mobile device detection and vanity redirects to the device-specific pages at the Akamai Edge.  Time match logic was built in to automatically flip the logic during holiday peak times and revert it back after Cyber Monday.  We also ran through all the purge scenarios in case of emergency changes.  For pages we couldn't cache, we used ESI fragments and tweaked the automated purge schedule to minimize origin bandwidth.  Key PDP pages and SKUs were also analyzed and architected in a way using GTM to go to different origins to achieve maximum offload. 


This was the home page delivered from origin at 11:59 PM, right before the holiday sale kicked in:


Best Buy 1a.png


At midnight on Thanksgiving, the Akamai configuration logic kicked in to serve this page automatically from NetStorage:


Best Buy 2a.png


This happened for the mobile device pages too:


Best Buy 3a.png


The result is 100% offload at peak!


Best Buy 4a.png


[Lelah] Wow - that's impressive.  Are there any other cool solutions that we've partnered with Best Buy on this holiday?


We've been working on a cutting-edge project for the last year that allows them to be very dynamic and scale on-demand with their traffic, be more agile with releases and maximize offload for their browse functionality.  Unfortunately I can't share the details as its confidential to Best Buy, but Akamai has implemented some pretty sophisticated routing, caching, and failover logic that are critical to the project.    


Recently, we've implemented a Download Manager for online games and their digital library that allows customers to optimize large software downloads purchased directly from bestbuy.com.


They also make great use of SPA [Shopper Prioritization Application] whether it's for planned maintenance or unforeseen events.  They're smart enough to know that having a contingency plan is important, and they make sure the experience is as user friendly as possible.


[Lelah] In a previous blog post I talked with Paul about the criticality of load testing. How does Best Buy load test for the holidays?


[Andrew] It's part of their holiday readiness team and initiative that they have every year.  Best Buy has been running load tests every few weeks since August.  With Premium Support, our team is fully aligned to Best Buy and we are very much engaged to help them work through issues whether it's log analysis or pinpointing where certain bottlenecks may be.  


[Lelah] This past Thanksgiving weekend, how was the Akamai team involved in monitoring? 


[Andrew] In preparation, we put together extensive documentation on our internal wiki for our aligned Premium Support team so collaboratively we were well aware of their holiday projects and key URLs.  We looked at past traffic peaks and since we were part of their holiday planning, we knew roughly when the traffic was going to hit us.  We had our usual Akamai and origin alerts set up, but tuned for holiday to eliminate false positives.  Bi-daily touch points were also a good way of keeping the Akamai and Best Buy teams in sync as we constantly monitored error rates and offload.  Overall, things went smoothly and we were able to squeeze in some turkey/family/ football time, and I think that's a direct result of our close collaboration and proactive planning throughout the year.


[Lelah] I'm not surprised to hear things went so well.  Thanks for sharing all of this great info on Best Buy's holiday preparations.  You guys are definitely working on some cool projects.  I now owe you a burrito (or two).


CES 2013: What We're Watching

Every New Year brings with it scores of traditions, from resolutions, fireworks and champagne toasts to the Times Square ball, "Auld Lang Syne" and midnight smooches. Perhaps not quite as time honored or widely anticipated, this time of year also heraldsCES_crowd2.jpg prognostications of what the big stories and technologies coming out of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will be.

At Akamai, where so much of what we do touches the daily lives of consumers around the world, we're as interested in what's going on at CES professionally as we are personally. We're not just helping content owners deliver the best streaming video services, we're enjoying them at home and on the go thanks to our TV Everywhere solutions, for example. With that in mind, members of our digital media marketing and engineering teams took a few minutes to share what they'll be keeping an eye on during next week's confab in Las Vegas.

Kurt Michel, Director of Product Marketing, Sola Media Solutions
  • 4K TVs, or Ultra HD. Since content still can't be sourced from broadcast, it has to be served over the top. It's still fairly early, but it will be interesting to see how this and the related explosion in bandwidth plays out.
  • OLED display quality. This is awesome, high-quality video that can be displayed in a thinner form factor that's actually cheaper over the long term.
  • Any video technology on flexible media.