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Simson's Piece on Akamai and Google: Good Reading

By - April 23, 2004

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I finally got around to reading Simson’s piece in Tech Review. I knew it would be worth the wait, not another me-too package on the IPO but some original reporting and thinking. And I was right. The piece points out that Akamai is in a similar business to Google – the distributed computing business. Then he thinks through the implications. Very Web 2.0, web-as-platform kind of stuff here.

Fun excerpts:

“These numbers are all crazily low,” Farach-Colton continued. “Google always reports much, much lower numbers than are true.” Whenever somebody from Google puts together a new presentation, he explained, the PR department vets the talk and hacks down the numbers. Originally, he said, the slide with the numbers said that 1,000 queries/sec was the “minimum” rate, not the peak. “We have 10,000-plus servers. That’s plus a lot.”…

…It’s (the) ability to build and operate incredibly dense clusters that is as much as anything else the secret of Google’s success….

….There is another company that has perfected the art of running massive numbers of computers with a comparatively tiny staff. That company is Akamai.

….Both companies have developed infrastructure for running massively parallel systems, but the applications that they are running on top of those systems are different. Google’s primary application is a search engine. Akamai, by contrast, has developed a system for delivering Web pages, streaming media, and a variety of other standard Internet protocols.

Another important difference, says Christy, “is that Akamai has had a very hard time creating a clear business model that works, whereas Google has been unbelievably successful.” Akamai has thus started looking for new ways that it can sell services that only a massive distributed network can deliver. Struggling for profitability, the company has been aggressively looking for new opportunities for its technology. This might be the reason that Akamai, unlike Google, was willing to be interviewed for this article…

…Now Akamai is developing techniques for letting customers run their applications directly on the company’s distributed servers….

…Google’s infrastructure seems well-suited to the deployment of a service like Gmail. Last summer Google published a technical paper called The Google File System (GFS), which is apparently the underlying technology developed by Google for allowing high-speed replication and access of data throughout its clusters. With GFS, each user’s e-mail could be replicated between several different Google clusters; when users log into Gmail their Web browser could automatically be directed to the closest cluster that had a copy of their messages.

This is hard technology to get right—and exactly the kind of system that Akamai has been developing for the past six years. In fact, there’s no reason, in principle, why Akamai couldn’t deploy a similar large-scale e-mail system fairly easily on its own servers. No reason, that is, except for the company’s philosophy.

Leighton doesn’t think that Akamai would move into any business that required the company to deal directly with end users…..

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