Akamai dips into streaming fray

ITworld.com |  Development

RealNetworks and Akamai Technologies entered into an expanded alliance this week to
speed delivery of streaming media content. Announced at the National Broadcasters
Association (NAB) conference in Las Vegas, the alliance is one of several recent moves
indicating that sophisticated means are coming online to address issues on Internet
traffic bottlenecks. Such bottlenecks, long a part of the commercial Internet, are
exacerbated by the advent of streaming media, which is gaining use daily.

According to analyst firm Multimedia Research Group, the number of streaming media
Websites climbed to 108,000 in 1999 from 36,000 in 1998. RealNetworks, inventor of
RealNetworks and RealPlayer streaming media technology has been a prime mover in
streaming data since the Web's early days. The company seems to have settled some long-
running technology disputes with Microsoft, which has aggressively pushed its Windows
Media Player technology in recent months.

Akamai is a more recent player in the streaming media game. The company arose out of
the mid-'90s work of several MIT researchers who set about to develop special
algorithms for intelligently routing and replicating content over a large network of
distributed servers.

The company now operates the FreeFlow network of over 2,700 Intel-based Linux
servers, distributed across the Internet, to speed up static content delivery. The
company introduced a FreeFlow Streaming road map just last fall, and it has
subsequently bolserted its offerings through a series of purchases. Akamai supports
Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Apple's QuickTime, as well as RealNetworks
technology. RealNetworks claims that over 85 percent of the streaming media content on
webpages today is in RealNetworks formats.

"Akamai remains format-agnostic so content providers can have a choice on the
content format they want to use," said Jaime Axelrod, product manager for Akamai in
Cambridge, Mass.

At the NAB conference, Akamai also said it will make a $3.5 million investment in
Virage, a provider of video indexing and search services. The company announced the
availability of Akamai's Traffic Analyzer and Reporter realtime and historical
reporting services for quantifying Website performance.

As Akamai busily branches out into streaming agreements, it will find new contenders
in the digital content delivery arena. Just this week, Internet company incubator CGMI
announced a deal with Novell and Sun -- each is contributing $20 million -- to create
CMGion, an Internet operating network. Those players envision an Internet proxy
platform stuffed with protocol, directory and caching services. Those services would
enable users to receive optimal delivery of not only standard content types but on-
demand multimedia as well.

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