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April 23, 2015

Akamai CEO: Network infrastructure is being crippled by demand

Interview Tom Leighton: The explosion of video and the demands on the network infrastructure must force new approaches to cope.

By James Nunns

CBR spoke with Dr Tom Leighton, CEO and co founder of Akamai about the challenges which are facing the network infrastructure and what needs to happen to solve them.

Video explosion

The explosion of traffic is one that is already impacting the infrastructure, the growth of video is going to increase and the question is, is the infrastructure there to deal with it?

Leighton explains the situation: "Think about a typical person going home at night at a prime time and watching a high quality video over IP. You have maybe a couple of billion people do that – which everyone thinks is the way the world is going. They watch in quality that is a little better than DVD, but not as good as 4K, maybe half the quality of 4K, that would be 20-25 thousand terabytes a second."

The scale of the issue is that this is a factor of a thousand beyond where we are today. While the connection into people’s homes is within a factor of 2, the big area of concern is with cloud data centres and the big carriers.

Peering points are getting congested and videos are getting thinned, the service is being harmed so that users are unable to get 10 or 20mbps, they instead get 1 or 2mbps.

One solution that Leighton suggests, is distributing the video much closer to your homes and pre positioning the popular content that you’re likely to watch.

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"So that it doesn’t have to come across the pipe, but if it does it’s coming from the neighbourhood and not from some central data centre that’s getting crushed."

Leighton believes that predictive analytics will play a big role: "Absolutely that will play a role, intelligence like that, that’s how you beat the latency’s. You sneak the stuff in there ahead of time and you’ve got to be good at making sure the right stuff is there, otherwise it doesn’t work."


Plenty of security challenges are being created and it is another area which Akamai is working on, particularly with enterprises and challenging the traditional model of defence.

The model of buying security equipment and putting it in your data centre no longer works, for Leighton the issues are that you cannot get the capacity to withstand large attacks and the increase of access points from BYOD and IoT devices means that there are more avenues of exploit.

Leighton said: "The big challenge is that you don’t have to be very sophisticated to run very sophisticated attack tools, because they are widely available online, you can get bot armies very easily and inexpensively that give you tremendous capacity."

"Already the enterprise has opened itself up and thats why you see all these headlines, its a disaster, so a lot of work needs to be done to secure things. But I think that will be a whole new industry in IT thats driven by the change in the network architecture demands."

This is an area which Akamai is putting a lot of effort towards to help secure enterprises from attacks, he believes that technically they can stop these attacks and that there is a lot of value in enterprises doing this, however, it is for the enterprises to identify and seek out help themselves.


"Performance is a big one, when you click on your phone you want it to show up, you don’t want to wait 10 or 20 seconds. In fact if you find yourself waiting that long then you probably don’t buy it, you don’t buy whatever you’ve been looking for, you’re sort of frustrated with the vendor. And that’s very normal. You sort of expect the newest device to be faster than your desktop its not!"

The problem is that while the technology is not bad, it is often using a cellular network which is even struggling to keep up with voice, let alone video, which is a hundred to a thousand times as intense as talking to one another.

The solution is perhaps not easily come by, with the cellular infrastructure so pervasive and expensive that Leighton doesn’t believe that cell towers will ever be scrapped. What instead is needed is new technology that works around the bottlenecks in the infrastructure.

"You need companies like Akamai who are developing new technologies to work around and get on top of it to provide something that works better."

"Demand is rising so much faster than the infrastructure can keep up, and thats where tech has to come in and make it feel to you that your phone is really fast, even though its not. That we pre-position stuff on that device, so that 99% of stuff is already there and that last 1% is coming in and that can be done fast."

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