Do-It-Yourself Web App Acceleration

By Derrick Harris

November 12, 2008

Step 1: Deliver application via the Web; increase flexibility and access. Step 2: Optimize performance over the Internet. Step 3 (optional): Do it all yourself, in a foolproof manner.

Or so says Akamai, which yesterday announced its Configuration Manager product —  a do-it-yourself tool to port applications to the Akamai network via the company’s Web Application Accelerator (WAP) product. WAP leverages Akamai’s network of 36,000-plus servers, the EdgePlatform, to enable fast, consistent, scalable and secure performance for Web-enabled applications. These “edge” servers sit on almost a thousand networks and provide point-to-point, optimized, performance-based routing for Akamai customers.

Neil Cohen, director of product marketing at Akamai, describes the company’s EdgePlatform thusly: “The way you can think of Akamai is we’ve now leveraged our distributed network, which now consists of 36,000-plus servers all over the world. What that really means to someone at the enterprise is that anywhere in the world you’re trying to access an application, over 60 percent of the world’s Internet users are within a network hop away of an Akamai server, which means we’re very, very close to any application user, and we’re very, very close to wherever you’re hosting your application.”

Traditionally, customers had to purchase a service contract and an Akamai team would optimize their applications on the Akamai network, but no more. “We’re now giving you, essentially, the APIs and the hooks into optimizing the cloud on your own,” says Cohen. “We still have turnkey professional services organization but, now, any IT networking professional or application developer, through a simple portal interface, can go and make changes on the fly, add new applications, tune their applications, through this intuitive Configuration Manager interface.” This means users can tune performance across the Internet the same way they can within the datacenter, he added.

Aside from the do-it-yourself freedom, another important aspect of Configuration Manager is its integrated staging environment — a virtual test lab, if you will. Customers can make sure the optimized configuration runs as planned before making it live to end-users or putting it into production.

Peter Christy, a principal analyst with Internet Research Group, believes Akamai hit the nail on the head by developing Configuration Manager to mirror current application development trends. He describes this trend as “something that looks like XML and something that looks like a set of rules, rather than capturing it in either human knowledge or in programming,” and everything is formalized so you can carry it with you. By designing Configuration Manager along these lines, Christy says, “Akamai is now well positioned to keep up and be responsive with all the interesting new forms of applications that are showing up in the world.”

Because Akamai handles probably “80 percent of the aggregate business in their industry,” Christy doesn’t think Configuration Manager will grow Akamai’s customer base too much, but it will help them defend it by creating one more barrier to entry for competitors.

Speaking of customers, Akamai has been developing Configuration Manager for several years — based on the same tool Akamai uses to configure managed service customers’ applications — and, according to Cohen, has quite a few beta customers. Among them are Autotask Corp. and Dolby Laboratories.  Whether or not a customer decides to use Configuration Manager likely will turn on what is core to its particular business. If performance tuning and optimization are core elements, says Cohen, Configuration Manager will allow them control and will let them see the effects of the new configuration in the staging environment. Otherwise, he says, the managed service offering allows less-savvy customers to optimize without expending extraneous resources.

Especially as cloud computing takes off — a delivery model Akamai believes it is poised to enable — WAP users (among whom Akamai counts numerous Fortune 500 companies and SaaS providers) are eager to get control. “In the past,” says Cohen, “what they can control is the stuff that sits in their datacenter, but everybody is realizing how important it is to optimize the Internet cloud, and people want their own means of being able to do that on the fly when they want to.”

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