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What's Next for Edge Delivery

Access to media through the internet is a huge part of how so many in the world are entertained, informed, and even educated nowadays. And 2020 has shined an even greater light on that fact as many around the world have needed to adjust to life during a pandemic. At Akamai, we saw traffic delivered from our network jump 30% in March -- essentially creating growth that we expect to see over the course of over many months in a matter of weeks.

And while 2020 was an accelerated step forward, it is still just a step in a longer journey. For along with traffic increases, people's expectations for the speed and quality of their digital media experiences are going up as well. Viewers will continue to be less tolerant of any failures or interruptions during video playback. Video quality will continue to increase as 4K replaces HD. Live video latency will continue to drop to less than 10 seconds and then to less than 5. Time to download a large video game will drop from hours to minutes. These are daunting challenges to address simultaneously, but we are confident in our plans to meet them.

At Akamai, our focus on meeting the demands of the future for media delivery starts with quality at scale. The nature of media is rooted in volume. There is social value in watching the shows or playing the games that so many others are as well. Quality and scale are linked as natural partners as well as adversaries -- as scale grows, quality can become harder to maintain. Our focus for media starts with doing the little things and the big things to stay ahead of the growing needs of the market. This includes ongoing network expansion efforts, which kicked into high gear earlier this year to meet the enormous traffic levels driven by a dramatic shift in user behavior as a result of the pandemic. Akamai is also improving the efficiency of every server on the network through constant measurement and optimization. And we are looking at new technologies -- from protocols to multicast deployments to client-based tech -- to pair expected massive growth with continued improved quality.

But while the future of media delivery starts with quality at scale, it certainly does not end there. Media applications are not only bigger, but better. Better in terms of accessibility and interactivity and usability. One expects to be able to pause/rewind/fast-forward video and to pick up where you left off from home or on the go. All this and more make the "media application" unique operationally.  

Billions of requests are happening behind the scenes to play on different screen sizes and different devices. Providing visibility to all this activity in an actionable manner is a critical part of meeting the needs of the future. We are making real-time log file access easy and integrated into all media delivery going forward. We are leading efforts to add connective data to all requests so video plays can be reconstructed and understood. And we are leading the definition of key performance indicators that bridge the gap between the business of video (and video gaming) to the technological role of an edge network. Quality at scale requires visibility -- for Akamai and for our customers -- and providing that from logs to KPIs is a major focus now and for years to come.

This increased visibility into media applications and the Akamai distributed network will also be connected to more programmatic controls for how Akamai is part of customers' media applications. Programmatic interfaces to deploy new services or configure existing services on the Akamai platform are another big area of focus in coming months and years. The Akamai products are part of the technical architecture of media applications and will increasingly be an active part of the functionality of applications. We see this today with use of our industry-first access revocation feature to provide fine-grained control over how video streams are being used.

Quality at scale with visibility and programmatic controls is a key focus of Akamai's edge delivery capabilities in coming years. But it is also worth noting that media applications -- which are now predominantly being executed within a public cloud platform -- are increasingly complex at their core. Akamai has been a leader in origin services for over a decade, helping connect viewers and gamers to application infrastructures. Media Services Live led the way in reliable live video ingestion and enabled orders of magnitude reductions in live-stream latency. Cloud Wrapper has provided major cost savings and improved reliability in media application architectures in recent years. Global Traffic Management provides resilient routing of requests to origins based on rules or performance. These are examples of investments in origin services that will continue to be a big part of supporting media applications for many years. Media applications require a distributed origin services solution that can provide offload and routing, as we have introduced today. Looking ahead, this is also a place for enhanced security capabilities, request orchestration, and volumetric controls that allow media applications to push the envelope in a microservices architecture.

The microservices behind media applications must be designed for scale fluctuations that are uniquely seen in media. These services may be scoreboard tickers, advertising calls, playback beacons, trending content, or a multitude of other services that enhance the media application experience. And these API calls are often very small payload, cacheable for only a short time, and even more sensitive to reliability as they are built into the functioning of the application. This is why we will be introducing a new distinct API delivery product designed for the rigor of media applications but suitable and valuable for all internet applications. Unique functionality, hardware, and routing will be employed to prepare for the continued scale increases that are surely coming.

So, as we look forward to a time when practically all of the media the world consumes will be internet delivered, we'll continue to invest in a global network that prioritizes:

  • Quality and scale
  • Visibility and programmatic controls
  • Sophisticated management services to reach origins
  • API reliability and performance in support of our customers' adoption of microservices

These alone will not create the currently unimagined media experiences of the near future, but we believe strongly that the future does not seem possible without them.

There will be more opportunities to engage with us on this and more at Edge Live | Adapt. Sign up to see how customers are leveraging these improvements, engage in technical deep dives, and hear from our executives how Akamai is evolving for the future.