Our website is down! It takes too long for the website to get served! Why is the video playback so choppy? These are complains I hear all too often as head of the web team and the guy responsible for ensuring that our websites are up and running. As a business that has moved online in a slow but measured way, we now see the importance of staying up 24×7. But why 24×7? In the publishing world, our readers are globally located and working at local hours wherever they may be. And since one of the metrics for our success is the number of page views and unique visitors, we need to make sure that every experience readers have with our websites is flawlessly executed most of the time.

A friend suggested I consider a content delivery network (CDN) as a better way of serving our readers in a more reliable fashion. In this case reliable is not just about uptime but also about fast load times.

Wikipedia defines a content delivery network or content distribution network (CDN) as a system of computers containing copies of data, placed at various points in a network so as to maximize bandwidth for access to the data from clients throughout the network. A client accesses a copy of the data near to the client, as opposed to all clients accessing the same central server, so as to avoid bottlenecks near that server. In the context of the World Wide Web, the ‘network’ is the Internet and therefore client access is anywhere in the world.

There are many CDN service providers today. Amazon CloudFront, Microsoft Windows Azure, and Akamai Technologies are probably the most recognizable brands. It should be noted that BitTorrent (more recognized for its peer-to-peer networks) commercially sells CDN services.

The use of CDNs is not restricted to the publishing industry. CDN is ideal for businesses that require fast, accurate and reliable connection anywhere in the world with the emphasis on delivering similar service experience regardless of location.

I recently met some executives at Akamai Technologies to try and understand how the CDN business is moving forward in Asia. In a follow-up discussion, I touched based with Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific at Akamai Technologies.

Are today’s network infrastructure geared to support the globally dispersed nature of customers?

Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific, Akamai Technologies

Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific, Akamai Technologies

Bruno Goveas: In recent years, with companies expanding into new geographies and having employees, partners and suppliers distributed across the globe, extending a company private network to support such a large user-base can be an expensive proposition, which is neither cost-effective nor scalable. Hence companies are enabling their applications to be accessible via the Internet to leverage its ubiquity and cost-effectiveness. The use of the Internet as a platform for business applications, to support the globally dispersed nature of customers, is critical for business agility and competitiveness.

Can having a cloud infrastructure setup of the scale of Google or Microsoft or Amazon be sufficient to deliver the availability/performance that customers expect from someone like Akamai? What makes Akamai different from the others?

Bruno Goveas: As Google or Microsoft or Amazon or other companies, offer public cloud solutions like Apps, Azure, BPOS, EC2 and S3, the reality of the cloud itself comes to bear. These applications are accessed over the Internet.  Without optimization services, cloud offerings are at the mercy of the Internet and its many bottlenecks — and the resulting poor performance has a direct impact on user adoption and hence the bottom line.

In order for companies to realize the potential of cloud computing, they will need to overcome the performance, reliability, and scalability challenges the Internet presents. That’s where cloud optimization services from Akamai comes in.

Combining Akamai cloud optimization services with cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft or Google, can help customers deliver the necessary levels of application performance and availability, that will be expected from their end-users, thus helping companies fully realize the ROI from their public cloud computing initiatives.  In addition, Akamai recently extended its cloud optimization capabilities towards security helping companies defend against network and  application-specific attacks,  further enhancing the integral need of cloud optimization services for any public cloud initiatives.

Akamai claims an SLA of 100% availability. How does the company ensure this is achieve and what performance guarantees does the company provide?

Bruno Goveas: This gets to the core of Akamai’s value proposition. Akamai has a global network of over 73,000+ servers in over 1,100 networks in 71 countries around that world. We leverage the intelligence we collect from our distributed platform, and apply a variety of proprietary and patented route, protocol and application optimization techniques to overcome inherent Internet challenges – peering/transit limitations, congestion issues, cable cuts caused by accidents and natural disasters like earth quakes and protocol inefficiencies – to accelerate the delivery of dynamic transactions, rich media content and software.

Is Akamai unique in this business? Probably not! For CDN providers like AT&T, Amazon or Microsoft Windows Azure to flourish, they must deliver comparable service quality at equal, if not better, price points.

Other CDN providers:

Free CDNs

Commercial CDNs

Commercial CDNs using P2P for delivery