TR: That’s what you call fault tolerant?
LEIGHTON: Yes, and you have to be fault tolerant across all aspects. Then there are also the non-obvious things. Like billing. We’re serving billions of hits a day, and we’re billing for every single hit. We’ve got to figure out whose content it was and how many bytes it has, and bill them for it. On top of that, we have a service that we offer our customers, where they can see within 60 seconds how many hits we served for them in the last 60 seconds. In addition, we can break down for our customers where the hits are coming from by country or state. It’s a challenging algorithmic problem. How do you actually do that? And make it work with a finite amount of hardware and resources?
TR: Hardware isn’t really the key to this, is it?
LEIGHTON: It’s not even a major component. I don’t want to belittle our hardware partners, but the key here is the algorithmic and software infrastructure. It’s critical.
TR: What is your competition in offering a distributed network for content delivery?
LEIGHTON: There’s not really much out there. We’re at a time when there’s a lot of business plans and there’s a lot of stories. There’s not much in the way of real services available today. Pretty much the only competitor in our space is Digital Island, which recently acquired Sandpiper [Networks]. There are others that have announced [business plans] but are not actively carrying traffic yet. One of the things that distinguishes Akamai is the amount of research and engineering and R&D effort that went into designing the system. It’s not just throwing a bunch of boxes out there. There are companies that have tried do that with no distributed system. The companies that announced services based on that approach two or three years ago aren’t still in business. Doing that didn’t work.
TR: What are the upcoming challenges for the technology? Is it to deliver content faster?
LEIGHTON: That’s a component. We’re trying to deliver on the promise of the Internet. There is the idea that there is a tremendous revolution happening with regard to the Internet. At the same time, there’s frustration because of the limitations. What we’re trying to do is to make the Internet more useful. And a component of that is making it faster and more reliable. Another component, somewhat related, is enabling the delivery of more enriching, more enabling content. If we can make streaming better, and in this case speed is not so much the issue, it’s bandwidth and not having packet loss, you’re going to get a much better image on your screen; you’ll do more with it, and more people are going to use it to convey content and information. And that’s invaluable in enriching the power of the Internet.
But not everything is pushing bits. Akamai offers services for capabilities such as Internet conferencing that enable, for example, distance learning. With these services, content providers or enterprise customers can effectively deliver content and interact with small or large audiences on the Web through live audio and video; there are features for sharing presentations, audience polling and moderating messaging.