Akamai Takes Aim at Mobile Content for Acceleration

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Akamai Technologies is extending the reach of its data acceleration services to better address mobile Internet use and the delivery of content from within an enterprise data center to employees or partners in the field.

With the Aqua Mobile Accelerator service and Terra Alta, a system for enterprises, Akamai is building on its existing lineup of offerings for organizations that want to improve the delivery of content and applications. Both are being announced on Tuesday for immediate availability.

Akamai made its name by caching Web content on servers around the world, bringing that data closer to Web users on PCs so it could be delivered more quickly. Now the company is trying to address the growing use of the Internet from mobile devices, as well as the need for enterprises to provide information or applications from within their own data centers over the Internet.

Demand for mobile data is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years, fueling concern about whether carriers' networks will be able to deliver good experiences to end users. But factors other than bandwidth can also come into play when it comes to how well an application or a piece of content comes across to a user.

Aqua Mobile Accelerator is designed to improve the mobile experience but isn't aimed at carriers. Instead, it's a package of capabilities designed for enterprises delivering content to mobile devices. Currently, the mobile content experience can vary widely because it's affected by the ever-changing strength of wireless network connections and the characteristics of many different mobile devices.

The new service includes Akamai Mobile Protocol, which can sense the quality of a cellular or Wi-Fi network connection in real time and continuously optimize the connection. It takes into consideration factors such as latency and packet loss and can get data to the user faster with fewer dropped connections, according to Akamai. The mobile service also takes advantage of Akamai's caching servers to speed up performance.

Another feature of Akamai Mobile Accelerator, called mobile detection and redirect, is designed to automatically differentiate between requests coming a traditional PC-based browser or a mobile platform. Akamai's software is also designed to distinguish among different types of mobile devices.

Trulia, a provider of online real estate tools and a longtime Akamai customer, has been using Akamai Mobile Accelerator and finds that the service brings its mobile websites and apps to parity with its desktop websites in terms of performance. The company has seen its monthly unique mobile visitors grow 250 percent from a year ago, and about 30 percent of all activity now is mobile, said Lee Clancy, Trulia's vice president of consumer products.

With services such as Akamai's, mobile operators will still need to invest in faster wireless networks and fatter pipes to link those with the Internet, but what Akamai is offering to content providers could help to keep carriers' customers happy, said IDC analyst Melanie Posey.

"It's possible that you might not need to add it as quickly," Posey said. Akamai is also starting to address carriers' needs directly, announcing a partnership with Ericsson last year for including Akamai caching capabilities in that company's mobile infrastructure products.

Companies that deliver news, entertainment and applications over the Internet also are faced with a growing variety of devices that consumers may use to access that content. Besides a few major mobile OSes, subscribers may be using smartphones, small or full-size tablets, or phone-tablet hybrids such as the Samsung Galaxy Note.

"If you're a content provider, it's definitely a valuable service to you to make sure it's not just people who have iPhones who have a great experience with your content," Posey said.

Akamai's Terra Alta enterprise announcement on Tuesday marks the first time the company has offered its software for use inside an enterprise's data center, according to Neil Cohen, vice president of product marketing. Virtualization made this possible, allowing Akamai to provide its software for use on a virtual machine in a virtualized data center, Cohen said.

"We've always resided just outside of your front door of your data center," Cohen said. Coming inside the data center allows Akamai to do things it couldn't before, such as Web deduplication, he said. With Web deduplication, once something has already been sent, only changes in that object needs to be sent, reducing bandwidth consumption. In addition, Akamai Instant predicts the pages most likely to be requested next by a user, eliminating the wait for some searches, the company said.

Terra Alta works with other Akamai technologies outside the data center, making it easier to combine internal resources with those from public clouds, most of which can take advantage of Akamai's global network of servers, the company said.

Having Akamai within the data center should help enterprises better serve mobile and remote users, IDC's Posey said.

"Right now, they have a lot of end users who don't necessarily access the enterprise applications from the corporate network," she said. That can include employees as well as Web customers. "The idea is to take the enterprise IT infrastructure and extend it out to the Internet," she said.

Akamai Mobile Accelerator will be priced based on the number of mobile properties that use it for performance gain. Terra Alta will be offered in packages for accelerating three, five or ten applications.

Akamai would not specify prices for either product. Both are offered as components of managed services, which are priced according to each customer's use case, the company said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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