As the chief scientist for Akamai Technologies, Tom Leighton makes sure that the CDN (content delivery network) provider doesn't limit its potential. In that vein, Akamai is about to begin turning its attention to the enterprise as part of an effort to allow IT organizations to leverage the Akamai network. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard and Test Center Director Steve Gillmor, Leighton explains why Akamai can be much more than a CDN for the enterprise.
InfoWorld: How would you describe the Akamai value proposition today?Leighton: We've evolved a lot since being just a CDN. Today our flagship service is called EdgeSuite, and that includes the assembly of dynamic and personalized HTML at the edge. Instead of being done at the source side, we're putting together the HTML at the edge, in our edge servers, which are close to the end-user. We basically take over the entire site by doing this and it affords a lot of advantages. First, you get the enhanced speed and reliability because everything is coming from an Akamai server near the client. Second, it gives a little bit of a shield to the source side because the source side is no longer necessarily accessible [by] the public at large. It's only accessed by Akamai servers and they can be authenticated. This dramatically decreases the infrastructure at the source side. As part of that, we've built an overlay network on top of the Internet. It provides a capability that when the Internet has a problem, we'll tunnel through one of our other servers to get around that problem. This enables reliable point-to-point communication on the Internet, which never existed before. So Akamai today has moved beyond what you might think of as a traditional CDN.
InfoWorld: Where does Akamai plan to take that capability next?Leighton: Very shortly we're going to move beyond that in two different directions. In one direction we're going to take everything we've done on the Internet and package it into a product for enterprises so they can create their own behind-the-firewall content and application delivery system. Another step is an extranet service where we'll take our edge servers and place them just outside the firewall for an enterprise and its business partners. They'll have more Web content at their doorstep, decreased bandwidth charges, and we'll pin content there on behalf of the enterprise for its business partners. Another dimension of that is to actually have edge computing on our edge servers by moving the business logic from the source data center to our edge regions. We're in beta next quarter with edge computing on the basis of Edge Java. Later this year we'll be in beta with .Net at the edge. Next we'll be talking about taking parts of databases and putting them at the edge. Certainly there's a lot of stuff in databases that's cacheable, and that's a big pain point for an enterprise today.
InfoWorld: What role will Web services play in all this?Leighton: We'll be in a position to support that, naturally, once we're supporting Web applications. There is interest in having Edge Java or distributed applications behind the firewall as well as on the Internet just for a corporation to use. I think that there's interest in both those contexts. XML is here to stay. SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] is going to be here to stay. We support both today.
InfoWorld: In the context of Java, how is this being done?Leighton: We're working with IBM on WebSphere, so we're putting WebSphere in our service at the edge. We also are going to put .Net at the edge. So we're working with the major vendors to have their platform put in our platform at the edge.
InfoWorld: Where is the edge of the network these days?Leighton: The open edge for us is the end-client. We want to get as close to the client as possible so the transaction with the client is conducted the fastest and most reliable way. We're not there today. We're one step short of that. We're the client's ISP. They come in on some kind of connection to the Internet and we're sitting right across from that. That's our edge today and that's why we're in 2,000 different locations today. You're coming to something that's close to you, reliable, and fast.
InfoWorld: What's your take on grid computing?Leighton: Akamai runs, by far, the world's largest grid computing platform and is supportive of these standards. And having Web services be supportive of that environment makes sense. We put a lot of effort into load balancing and failover. It's what we put almost all of our effort into the early days, and still devote significant resources to. What Akamai is doing is actually running a network of 13,000-plus servers in a highly coupled distributed computing platform.
InfoWorld: How important will wireless be for Akamai?Leighton: Pervasive computing is very intriguing, and it's something that we support. We work with a lot of the wireless vendors. I think it's coming, but that's not happening tomorrow. It's something that we look at towards the future in terms of working with our partners. Today we work with our partners to provide information about the bandwidth connectivity for the end-user, [so] that we distribute the right kind of content for each end-user. If you have a bad wireless connection, you get a different piece of content than if you have broadband connectivity.
InfoWorld: So just how large is the Akamai network today?Leighton: In terms of servers, there are over 13,500 servers deployed today over a couple thousand locations and over 1,000 ISPs. We have, by at least one order of magnitude, the largest distributed computing platform in the world deployed today. We have the largest penetration into the Internet, when you consider the number of points of presence and the number of ISPs we have presence in. So it's the largest infrastructure in the Internet today.