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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.

End-Users' Web Experience Expectations Just Keep Getting Higher

People have high expectations. Web performance is no different. End-users expect fast and engaging web experiences. It doesn't matter if they use a PC, smartphone or tablet to interact with your web application. According to recent end-user research 89 percent of tablet, 59 percent of smartphone and 83 percent of PC users expect a website to load in 3 seconds or less. Now if we compare web performance expectations to the latest aggregate web page load times across smartphones and PCs it's not a pretty picture.

In addition just like we expect every new iPhone to be better, and every new Ferrari to be faster, our expectations for web performance just keep getting higher. In 2011, 71% of mobile users expected web pages to be as fast or faster than on a desktop -- up from 58% in 2009.

Philip Tellis summed up this rise in expectations nicely during a recent Velocity conference: "What delighted users a few years ago is now an expected baseline, the absence of which will frustrate."

To find out if web application delivery professionals also perceived this rise in end-user expectations Akamai commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey 210 US IT professionals across various industries. The resulting report entitled "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery" can be found here.

This is the second (the first - Is Web and Mobile Application Performance A Business Issue? You bet it is.) in a series of posts where we will take a deeper look at the key findings from the report.

When we asked IT professionals whether end-user's expectations were higher than three years ago the resounding answer was yes. It seems like expectations are rising for both internal and external audiences. Enterprise users are no longer willing to suffer through subpar and slow applications that might not function across the latest browsers and mobile devices. In addition both internal and external audiences not only expect faster web applications, but also richer experiences that evolve more often.

  • 74 percent of external and 73 percent of internal end-users expect faster web applications

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  • 76 percent of external and 64 percent of internal end-users expect richer web applications

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  • 61 percent of external and 60 percent of internal users expect web applications that are updated more frequently
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So what do these stats tell us?
External and internal users continue to expect richer and richer web applications that are constantly evolving. This usually equals more features, which equals more payload to deliver to the end-user's browser. But not only do end-users want richer more up to date experiences - they want apps that are fast - blazing fast.

In our next post we will cover why delivering quality experiences and blazing fast applications has become so difficult. In the meantime if you are interested in learning more download the report "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery" here.

Lorenz Jakober is a senior product marketing manager at Akamai
At this point it's well documented that no one likes to wait for webpages to load. On top of it organizations across industries understand that web performance impacts the bottom line.The problem is delivering fast, rich, engaging web experiences across an increasing variety of browsers, mobile devices, networks and locations is not easy. To find out more about the challenges of delivering quality web and mobile experiences in this complex environment Akamai commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey 210 US IT professionals across various industries. The resulting Forrester Consulting report, "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery," can be found here.

This is the first in a series of posts where we will take a deeper look at the key findings from the report and provide best practices on how to overcome the web and mobile performance challenges of today - and tomorrow. As mentioned above the majority of organizations realize web performance impacts the bottom line. Yet Forrester found that the minority of organizations measure the impact of web application performance on the business.
  • Only 20 percent of respondents currently quantify or capture the business impact of slow loading web or mobile applications
  • 42 percent don't currently track the impact of performance on the business but plan to do so in the next 12 months
  • 38 percent don't have any plans to do this within the next 12 months 

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Does it matter that we have no insight into the impact of web performance on the business?

Yes. Yes; it does. In an era of where doing more with less has become a corporate mandate IT organizations and the LoB require a viable business case for web and mobile performance optimization. Little to no visibility into the business impact of web performance can result in a lack of business case, budget and resources for web performance optimization.

  • Only 22 percent of respondents have been able to adapt the web performance optimization techniques and technologies they need
  • Close to 70 percent know that they need to optimize web performance but are left without the business case for the required resources

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So what can we do about this?

There are various solutions that enable you to show the business impact of web performance. These solutions range from very limited and free to full featured and expensive. There are plenty of organizations that have highlighted the fact that web performance is a business issue and have reaped the associated benefits. Walmart for example has shared some of their findings on how to measure the impact of web performance on the business (more information and full presentation available here). You can learn from their example.

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The fact remains - no visibility into the business impact of web performance - equals no business case for optimization - which often equals no budget.

In our next post we will cover rising business and end-user web experience expectations and why delivering quality experiences has become so difficult. In the meantime if you are interested in learning more download the report "Shifting Performance Strategies And Solutions For Mobile And Web Delivery" here.

Lorenz Jakober is a senior product marketing manager at Akamai

The largest annual gathering of Akamai customers and partners, the Akamai Edge Conference, is taking place next week at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and will feature speakers from more than 40 companies. Registration information and the complete agenda can be found at: www.akamai.com/edge

Business and technology leaders from Amadeus, Build.com, Cisco, CTV, Grainger, GREE, Guitar Center, Symantec, USAA, Visa, and many others, are scheduled to present during the three-day conference. Participating sponsors include HP, Terremark, Brightcove, Exceda, IBM, Dell, Adobe, Apica, BMC, Dolby, Envivio, Hybris, Kit Digital, Microsoft, Micros-Retail and Riverbed, among others.

Business innovators including Airbnb, Fox News Channel, The Hartford, Macy's, News International, Red Hat and Salesforce will offer keynote presentations.

Other exciting highlights include insights from industry luminaries Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences; Rick Smolan, former Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer and best-selling author of the "Day in the Life" book series and creator of The Human Face of Big Data project; and Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research covering consumer and enterprise mobility

"Akamai Edge is taking place against the backdrop of a world that's connected like never before," said Brad Rinklin, chief marketing officer, Akamai. "This year's conference will focus on the extraordinary innovation taking place as businesses leverage cloud, mobile, media and big data strategies, all while addressing the security challenges inherent in today's hyperconnected world. We've created a dynamic program that will foster the exchange of ideas among peers from around the globe, representing industries such as media and entertainment, commerce, healthcare and life sciences, manufacturing, financial services, and software and technology."

Hope you can join us!

Web performance: Why one size doesn't fit all

When considering web performance, it's tempting to think that the user experience on any given site or application will be fairly consistent. The reality? Performance is impacted by different variables and ensuring that all users have the best possible experience requires hard work. For example, a desktop machine running IE 9 over a cable connection will offer a different user experience compared to a Macbook running Safari through public Wi-Fi, and both of those are different from an Android smartphone on 3G. Each has different connectivity characteristics and idiosyncrasies when it comes to rendering content.

It's not easy to ensure that your website performs well in the different situations I've described, and the typical end-user simply doesn't care about how hard it is to ensure stellar performance across the broad spectrum of web experiences. A user hitting your site from a smartphone expects the same great experience as if they were connecting from home or work. This is true despite the fact that each set of circumstances is radically different.

As pages get bigger, our performance expectations get higher
Pages are growing, and they're growing quickly. In the last two years the average web page has gone from about 700 to 1,100 kilobytes, all-in. This is a 57% increase in size.

And user expectations? They're going the other way. In 2006, we were OK with waiting 4 seconds for a page to load. By 2009 we got antsy at 3 seconds. Today we see that a 300 millisecond bump in page load time can lead to revenue impact.

Although we have seen massive growth in the richness of web content, data indicates that users expect pages to load faster than ever before.

The Sun Rises on Sola Media Solutions

Just in time for the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), Akamai earlier today introduced Sola Media Solutions. A comprehensive set of cloud based, integrated services, Sola Media is designed to meet the increasing audience demand for content that is available when and where viewers want it, on a wide variety of devices, and with the highest quality possible.

Put simply, Sola Media is all about giving our customers an easy and effective way to address the core challenges of providing an engaging audience experience. We can help them adapt and protect content and ensure that content is connected in the larger video ecosystem with Sola Vision. We allow our customers to store and deliver content with Sola Sphere. And we give them the tools to better understand the user experience with Sola Media Analytics.

If you're going to be at IBC in Amsterdam, stop in at Stand 7.K36 and ask to see Sola Media Solutions in action - especially the brand new cloud-based transcoding and stream packaging capabilities. Or, watch the below video. Our director of product marketing for Sola Media Solutions discusses why we believe Sola Media is a great way for content providers to engage audiences with superior quality video, solve the challenges of multi-device consumption, and increase video monetization. At the end, there is an opportunity to schedule a meeting or demo if you'd like more information.

Rob Morton is a senior manager for public relations at Akamai

Last week, I touched on Cloud Gaming and one approach, Thin Client Game Streaming. Today, I'd like to delve into Fat Client Game Streaming.

Fat Client Game Streaming is another popular method of game streaming that overcomes the challenges of reducing the time to play. Businesses like The Happy Cloud, Spoon, and BitRaider have been early implementers of this approach. This method takes an existing game and essentially creates a new version of the client that can be progressively delivered and installed. When you start to play a game, you don't need every library and component, only a small subset. Much of the software is typically not needed until you make decisions in the game that require additional libraries and components. This approach essentially creates a probability table of what component and libraries you need to start, and a tree of next likely resources. A new shell is created for the software to enable the game to start running with a subset of resources which are loaded based on the probability table.
This allows the gamer to start playing in just a few minutes.The probability table determines the typical starting point in the game for players, and downloads the rest of the library components in the background while the player begins play.

The advantage to this model is that start up times are typically just a few minutes to begin play. After a player authenticates and selects a game, they do not need to wait to download and install the entire game.

Another advantage to this model is that it still allows for offline game play after the initial install is complete while playing. The thin client model does not allow offline gameplay, since a server in the cloud is doing the computations and rendering.

The other major advantage to this model is it does not require the developer to create a separate version of the game. This method involves taking existing gaming code and running it through a set of tools to create the new package that can be streamed. This process can take the course of a few hours to a hundred hours per game.  

Let's Give Users What They Want - Instant-on Applications

I have spent a lot of time investigating and writing about User Experience, especially in the world of mobile banking.  The conclusion is simple: users now expect instant performance, both on their desktop, and on their mobile device.  So why not give users what they want?  Let's give them instant-on mobile banking applications.
When I say "mobile banking applications", I mean any native Smartphone application used in the world of financial services.  This could be banking, brokerage and trading, insurance, investment advice, or others.  And my advice here applies to more than financial services - it applies to other areas as well, such as social media apps, commerce, media and entertainment, and gaming. In reality, instant-on should be applied to any app that you may use on your Smartphone.

Let me define what I mean by instant-on.  An instant-on application is one that immediately launches and displays the start screen, without any request/response over the WiFi or carrier connection.  This means that the startup is completely in the code of the application and Smartphone.  It is instant, in that the startup occurs entirely on the Smartphone.  Instant-on apps can launch in as little as under 100 milliseconds, vs. up to many seconds for apps that communicate back to a server upon startup. As I like to say, "It's only software, it will do anything we tell it to do."  Well, then why do developers tell their apps to "call the mother ship" just to launch?

Of the dozens of mobile apps that I have examined, less than  5% are instant-on.  For those apps that do make a request back to a web server, it's amazing to see what is being requested.  Sometimes it's a small configuration file, sometimes it's a lengthy disclaimer document (which does not even show up in the start screen), and other times is a huge waterfall, with over a dozen hostnames and dozens of objects.  In many cases, it has nothing to do with what is required for the start screen.

But perhaps most interesting (or puzzling, depending on how you look at this topic) is that this concept isn't new. Noted web performance evangelist Steve Souders lists "make fewer HTTP requests" as his number 1 rule for faster loading web sites. If we're doing it (or should be doing it) for "wired" web pages and applications, why aren't we doing it for mobile?

How to Examine Native Apps:
The first step to understand instant-on applications is to investigate the request/response flow from the app.  You can do this easily on a web page using tools such as httpwatch, but for native apps, it's not that simple.  To "sniff" a native app, you need to setup a network sniffer on your PC, and proxy your Smartphone through that PC.  You can then watch the requests from the native app, and the responses from the server back to the app.  It sounds difficult, but it's really quite simple. And once you have it setup, it takes only a few seconds to sniff a native mobile app.

I have detailed document that provides step-by-step instructions on how to sniff native apps, which I would be glad to share with you.  You can request a copy by posting a comment to the blog, or email me directly.  Just ask for the document "Taking the Mystery Out of Native Applications".

Of course, once launched, a banking app will require communications to a server, and there are many techniques that can be used to make those screens fast.  I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly there as well.  But let's at least start off by giving users what they want, and make banking apps instant-on.
The dramatic increase in quality of video content, combined with new technology that's ability to scale for television-size audiences online, has resulted in a growing TV revolution on the Internet. We've seen audiences on Akamai's HD Network grow dramatically to-date and we believe a 100X increase is possible in the coming years. Are you ready?

Yesterday, speaking at Brightcove PLAY, I outlined three mega trends that are helping to drive this TV revolution:

More premium content is moving online. To meet burgeoning consumer demand for high-quality content, producers and programmers are bringing more and more of their premium content online, via on-demand and live streaming formats.

Convergence of lean-in and lean back. As consumers increasingly seek an enhanced-TV experience, we see more and more people "co-viewing" across devices and not just choosing one screen size over another.

Widespread adoption of mobile media. The proliferation of connected devices is rapidly driving mobile media consumption. For example, according to one recent study, the number of streamed mobile TV users on smartphones will reach 240 million by 2014.

The combination of these three trends presents tremendous opportunities for media companies to better engage with customers at anytime, anywhere -- but you have to make it available to consumers who are expecting a TV-quality experience every time!

Gone are the days when online video was reserved for grainy, VHS-quality at best, user-generated clips of stupid pet tricks. Today's video is HD, personalized, and primed for monetization. It needs to look sharp, like the difference between these two clips: http://wwwns.akamai.com/brightcove/dog_redbull_oneclip_final.mp4

If you want to build a real business online with video, the path you need to take has come into sharp focus.

Paul Sagan is Akamai's President and CEO

Ready, Set, Play at Games on the Edge!

The online gaming industry has faced enormous change over the last few years - from digital distribution to internet-connected consoles to more mobile access of casual and social games.

There are 4 key trends creating change in the gaming industry and related eco-systems. First, digital distribution of games is going mainstream, and will likely become the only means of distributing games with the next generation consoles. Second, games are the most popular type of social app for people to interact with each other, which means almost every game has to support online gameplay and communities. Third, games have created one of the largest economies of virtual goods and microtransactions, with players buying, selling, and trading virtual property and paying for virtual property. And lastly, and this is an emerging trend, consumers want the right to play a game across multiple devices once they have paid.

Games on the Edge is a site featuring gaming-related content from leading global game publishers showcasing online delivery of game demos, game site content and game trailers leveraging Akamai's Intelligent Platform. These companies are on the cutting-edge of many of these industry trends. Visit the site to learn more about their games and vision. Hear game-related announcements and industry commentary from gPotato and Aeria Games on the Industry Voices section. Play games ranging from MMOs to Action to Adventure to Fighting to Real Time Strategy to Casual from Aeria Games, gPotato, Trion Worlds, mGame USA, OG Planet and Moviestarplanet.

The gaming industry is on the cutting edge for leveraging the latest technologies and business models, so it proves a great showcase for how these companies benefit from the various solutions within Akamai's Intelligent Platform across delivery, security, downloads and more. We invite you to visit www.gamesontheedge.com, play some games, and contact us if you have questions or comments.

Kris Alexander is Chief Strategist, Connected Devices and Gaming, at Akamai.
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