Cracks in Inktomi's Content Bridge?

SAN FRANCISCO (08/25/2000) - Content distribution is the buzzword, and Inktomi Corp. (INKT) and America Online Inc. are the new kids on the block. The question is whether they can catch the industry leader, Akamai.

A new coalition of service providers, calling itself Content Bridge, has banded together to speed up the delivery of Web content. Inktomi, AOL, Exodus and a host of other service providers are part of the coalition. The idea isn't new.

Akamai and a dozen other players have been doing similar things for years. But with big guns like AOL and Exodus throwing their weight behind technology from Inktomi, the battle between companies with quirky names borrowed from Native American languages is going to get fierce. ("Akamai" is Hawaiian for "clever and cool and hip," while "Inktomi" comes from a Lakota legend about a clever spider.) So far, no one knows much about Inktomi's new technology. "We saw very little of substance," says Akamai spokesman Jeff Young. "Nothing [Content Bridge] announced is currently available. Akamai currently has servers deployed on 225 networks in 50 countries. We think that's going to keep us in the driver's seat for a long time."

Inktomi says the technology is in testing now on AOL's network and will go live in early fall. "Of course, the first question everybody asks you is, 'Will it work?' Nobody believes you until they see it," says Megan McDonald, director of product marketing for Inktomi. "The fact that AOL and Exodus have signed on gives us credibility and also gives us enough critical mass to make this work."

McDonald says the system will work better with more partners, and that more partners will join during the months to come. But outsiders wonder if this coalition can hold itself together. Inktomi is borrowing its model from the early days of ISPs, when providers would exchange traffic with one another to decrease network congestion. But squabbles soon broke out over whether or how to charge for the service. The results were fragmentation and headaches.

"The problem with coalitions is that they tend to get fragmented," says Abhi Chaki, director of business development with Edgix, a content-delivery company set to launch in a month. "This is the same model but on the content side. And they're going to need a whole lot more partners if they want to bridge the gap between the end user and the content. They're going to need a lot more ISPs."

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