Akamai’s been doing edge computing before it was a thing

Akamai prides itself on its last-mile network partnerships to deliver fast response times. (Akamai)

Akamai, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been doing edge computing before it was called edge computing.

Akamai has built a global platform that provides content delivery and cloud infrastructure services. Its platform includes more than 240,000 servers located in more than 1,400 networks.

According to its recent earnings, Akamai’s Edge Technology Group revenue grew 4% year over year, generating $2.14 billion of the company’s 2020 revenue, which was 67% of total 2020 revenue.

At Akamai’s virtual analyst day in late February, Akamai set a goal to continue to grow its Edge Technology Group revenue at a 2%-5% compound annual growth rate over the next 3-5-years, according to the analysts at Cowen.

Akamai’s Ari Weil, global VP of product marketing, said the company’s content delivery network (CDN), built over its 23-year history, is an edge platform that leverages telco networks all around the world. He said Akamai’s architecture was built with a different approach from other CDN providers that built their networks centralized around major metros. “We took the approach with carriers to have redundancy,” said Weil. “We architected our edge with the goal of getting as close to users as possible.”

This was rather forward-thinking since hyperscalers including AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure now want to get closer to end users with their own edge platforms. And these public cloud providers are striking deals with telcos to do just that.

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Weil said Akamai prides itself on its last-mile networks to deliver responses in under 100 milliseconds in many locations. “We’re delivering a response to a user faster than you can blink,” he said.

He added that Akamai’s partnerships with many global telcos and broadband providers is also helpful when any one provider has an outage. He said a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against CenturyLink (now Lumen) in August 2020 hit some CDNs really hard. “For Akamai it only impacted 2% of our traffic because we partner with multiple providers,” he said.

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During the company’s Q4 earnings call in February, Akamai CEO Tom Leighton said that on November 10, traffic on the Akamai platform reached 181 Tbps, 50% greater than the peak in 2019.

“We believe the pandemic has accelerated consumer usage of the internet in areas like OTT video, gaming and e-commerce, and we believe this usage pattern will likely persist going forward,” said Leighton.

There are a lot of new disrupters in edge now, though. There are the big cloud players such as AWS with its Wavelength service and Microsoft with its Azure Zones. Even tower companies are putting “edge” compute at the locations of some of their wireless towers.

Weil said, “Honestly, we don’t believe they will ever create the sort of deployment we’ve created. It’s too capital-intensive. It’s really hard work and takes a lot of focus and time.”