Big files, Fast Internet? Lion download speeds

No one with a slow Internet connection is going to relish downloading Mac OS X Lion's 4GBs, but if you have the pipes, the downloads seem to be working quite well.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

My buddy Jason Perlow had a bad day. When he tried to download Mac OS X Lion's 4GBs, he ran into an hour-and-a-half of online road-block. When the download finally did start though, he was able to download it, thanks to his 100Mbps Verizon Optimum Online Ultra connection in about half-an-hour.

So, which can you expect? An hour and a half of freeze or a relatively fast download? I say "relatively" fast because in a perfect world 4GBs on a 100Mbps connection should take about five minutes. To find out what other people were seeing, I did an informal, totally unscientific survey of my high-tech friends on Google+ and Twitter to see what their experiences were like.

And, the answer, if you're lucky enough to have a real broadband connection, is: Fast.

One friend reported that "I must have gotten lucky. My download took less than 30 minutes on FiOS. Install, likewise, was half an hour. The entire process was far less painful than anything I'd experienced before. And that, frankly, is surprising...because I was expecting more snafus since Lion's been positioned as a major upgrade." FiOS, a fibre optic Internet service offer from Verizon speed ranges from 15Mbps to 150Mbps. He was running at 50Mbps.

Others, running everything from AT&T Uverse a DSL Internet service at 12Mbps tocable service users in the 15 to 100Mbps range saw download times ranging from 40 minutes to the guy with the 100Mbps connection who downloaded it in five minutes.

Me? I did it in 12-minutes with my newly configured Charter Ultra60 connection.

So, what does this mean?

Well, it seems to me that Akamai, the content delivery network (CDN) behind the Mac OS X Lion roll out, is doing a good job.

Akamai did its CDN magic by hosting Lion on over a thousand servers in multiple Internet backbone and end-user ISPs. In the case of Lion, Akamai preloaded mirrored copies of Lion. Thus when you bought Lion, your data request was sent to "closest," in terms of distance, network load, and latency, Akamai server.

So why did Jason run into trouble? He thinks it was because Akamai's distributed, front-end IP load-balanced methodology ran out of slots. I strongly suspect though that the blame goes to Apple's datacenters.

In the Akamai model, no stream can start until its servers have been given the OK from the authorizing site. In this case, that would have been Apple and that sounds to me like exactly what happened.

All that said, this only really matters if you're like me and my friends who have a fast broadband connection in the first place. Many of you, most of you, don't.

According to Akamai's State of the Internet report for the last reported quarter of 2010 in the United States only 34% of users have "high broadband connectivity." That includes 27% of connections between 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps and only 7% reaching above 10 Mbps. That's lousy.

Even at a 10Mbps connection, if all goes well, you're looking at just under an hour to download Lion.

Now, I'm a big believer in cloud computing and devices that rely on them, like the Chromebook, but then I have the bandwidth to use them. I think Apple was premature in releasing Lion as a download only upgrade. For all too many users in 2011, a DVD would have been the better option for Lion. Going online for it should have been left as an option for those who are lucky enough to have serious broadband in our homes and offices.

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