Speaking in Sydney, where he today addressed the 5th International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Leighton said that the Internet’s performance is currently hampered by incomplete adoption of Border Gateway Protocol, poor use of Domain Name Services and peering relationships that make it hard to optimally efficient routes for data to travel.
Another culprit, Leighton said, is the practice of serving content from a central location, as doing so creates bottlenecks. "It’s not a matter of laying more cable so there is more bandwidth available," he said. "That’s a flawed scaling model".
The combined effect of misuse and a flawed model, he said, is that the Internet cannot be scaled to carry more centrally-hosted applications. Instead, applications must move into a distributed environment on the edge of the network, a model which can only be achieved through the application of complex mathematics.
"You’ve got 70 million users on an unreliable, overused network," he said. "Yet you want to deliver content in a way that makes it appear reliable. That’s a very complicated resource assignment problem".
Akamai’s contribution to solving the problem is two dozen mathematicians applying techniques called Combinatory Optimization to find new more efficient ways to distribute content. The company’s work sees it periodically deploying new traffic-direction algorithms, which are supported by the individual mathematician who devised them.
“The guy who invents the theory gets to wear a pager and do the support for their new stuff," Leighton said. "If they get a call they can be up at all hours cutting new code to make the system work".
The aim of the effort is to push content to the edge of the Internet, "closer" to its users and using known good routes. To deliver this plan as a service, the company maintains over 15,000 servers around the world, backed by its mathematicians.
"Ideally we would redesign the Internet," Leighton concluded. "It simply wasn’t designed to do the things we ask of it now. The best we can hope for is an overlay to hide its worst deficiencies".
"But making more bandwidth available isn’t the answer. Better distribution of content closer to POPs is".