Akamai Technologies to Ease Internet Traffic Jams

Barring an unforeseen escalation in the deployment of initiatives such as Internet2 or Next Generation Internet, the current Internet infrastructure will likely remain in place for some time to come. But with ever more users and ever more bandwidth-hogging applications and technologies, something must be done to more efficiently manage the Internet’s increasing congestion. Enter Akamai Technologies Inc. (www.akamai.com), an Internet start-up with a convincing solution -- dubbed FreeFlow -- for dealing with Internet jams.

FreeFlow technology is the result of work done by a group of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS, www.lcs.mit.edu). Under the auspices of MIT’s LCS, professor of Applied Mathematics and current Akamai chief scientist Frank Thomson Leighton supervised the development of a series of algorithms that can intelligently and efficiently route data by offloading content from a central server to a network of distributed servers, which then service end users based on geographic server-to-client proximity.

"There’s a large suite of algorithms designed to get the content as close as possible, as efficiently as possible, to the end user, so the end user can always get a copy of the content they want from our servers nearby," Leighton explains.

According to Leighton, FreeFlow’s geographical routing intelligence can do much to ease the capacity management problems of national or multinational content providers.

"We store copies of the data in accordance with where the demand for the data is and the overall volume of demand," Leighton explains. "The more people that want to see a particular item, the more copies we make, and that will be done on a regional basis." Leighton offers as an example the announcement of a trade in professional sports between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. In this situation, most of the demand for information about the trade will be localized to end users on the East Coast. Therefore, a large content provider, such as CNN or ESPN, can disseminate pertinent trade-related content to regional servers in the Northeast, rather than burdening centralized servers.

According to Akamai Technologies, as more content providers use FreeFlow, the performance of Web browsing will be proportionally enhanced. "The larger we become, the better the experience is for the end user," Leighton says. "This technology was designed for very large scalability, to work with thousands and hundreds of thousands of servers. So efficiency increases with scale."

Leighton and a group of interested parties, including graduate student and current Akamai CTO Daniel Lewin, licensed the FreeFlow technology from MIT, and Akamai Technologies Inc. was born. Akamai has received more than $8 million in funding from several venture capital firms and has enlisted the management expertise of Paul Sagan. Sagan is chief operating officer of Akamai and founder of RoadRunner Internet service (www.roadrunner.com), a high-speed cable online service.

Although FreeFlow is still in the beta-testing stage, Akamai has more than 100 FreeFlow-compliant servers deployed with a number of content providers, five of which are characterized by Leighton as among the busiest content providers on the Web. Leighton indicates that Akamai hopes to have more than 1,000 servers distributed by the end of the year.

In the FreeFlow model, a content provider contracts with Akamai to provide a server or servers with the FreeFlow technology, which is then used to efficiently distribute the provider’s data.

"We own the servers, and we have relationships with a variety of ISPs and backbone providers," Leighton comments. "So the content providers are our customers, and we distribute their content for them in exchange for a fee."