Akamai's announcement this week of much broader acceleration benefits -- to all IP applications, including VOIP -- extends its WAN optimization capabilities into enterprises and out to remote users. The move comes as Akamai is facing perceptions its services are increasingly commodities, and therefore under downward price pressure.
The Akamai IP Application Accelerator service takes Akamai's traditional Web and electronic software distribution benefits to a wider set of applications. Now, client/server, chat, FTP file transfers, and productivity applications that use secure sockets layer (SSL), Internet protocol security (IPsec), user datagram protocol (UDP), and Citrix independent computing architecture (ICA) can gain performance boosts over the public Internet or virtual private networks (VPNs).
By making the offering a managed service, Akamai is seeking to make it simple and affordable for IT providers in enterprises and SMBs to employ WAN optimization amid a growing array of options. [Disclosure: Akamai is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts that I produce and moderate.]
Several mega trends are at work in the market for the extended delivery of enterprise applications and communications services. On one hand, enterprises and service providers of all stripes are seeking to cut total costs by consolidating their datacenters, modernizing their applications and streamlining the platforms they must support. They are leveraging open source options, virtualization, and low-cost hardware and storage options.
On the other hand, adoption of outsourcing, software as a service (SaaS), shared services, SOA, Citrix/terminal services, and more reliance on Internet-based communications like VOIP are making the reliance on fast end-to-end Internet performance more critical than ever. The result is a consolidation on the serving end of the equation, with more need for overall WAN performance, among more end-points that are increasingly farther away from their hosts for critical online applications and services. In other words, enterprises want many types of IP services delivered fast and secure with fewer server locations to more and further-flung users.
What's more, as more subscription-payment based services are added to the mix, the sensitivity to price for total delivery of applications is high. Those seeking WAN optimization services are seeking both high performance and low total costs.
Into this brewing storm, Akamai is taking its globally distributed network and Web-based acceleration services to a new level. In addition to providing market-dominant positions for the delivery of data and software packages and patches, as well as object and streaming acceleration for media, entertainment and ecommerce providers, Akamai is asserting itself between end users and the services they need -- regardless or the origins.
The IP Application Accelerator boosts the speed and quality of e-mail, voice over IP services, and file transfers within an organization. Akamai is also expected to begin offering more services soon that target chatty applications, RIAs, and business process services delivery directly to corporate remote branches. By combing Akamai's ability to cache data from applications closer to remote end users, while also speeding the chatty nature and interface deltas of online applications, a powerful acceleration solution is in the works that aligns well with SOA and increased use of SaaS and enterprise-managed shared services, regardless of the end-points.
A number of architectural and technical approaches can be brought to the mix of problems behind fast and dependable applications and services delivery via the Internet. For example, just as Akamai places its server boxes are ISP locations worldwide -- so that data, objects and content are closer to the browsers that call on them -- Akamai could also place such boxes inside of enterprises and at retail outlets or entertainment venues. More point to point architectural approaches that leverage strategic placement of appliances can also be leveraged.
[UPDATE: For example, a recent new offering by Starbucks and Apple that allows iPhone users who enter a Starbucks outlet to see the music selection played over their iTunes interface -- for possibly buying -- uses Akamai appliance "boxes" at each retail outlet.]
This novel approach combines a local WiFi network with iTunes and the server at each Starbucks outlet, as well as the WAN services, in such a way that innovative entertainment and mobile ecommerce services are now in the offing. I can see in the not distant future where those consumers attending a concert, movie, theater or opera could be given the choice of buying a song, video or the entire live performance itself via their converged mobile device and shopping application via an optimized network. See a show, enjoy it, buy it to keep on the que out to the parking lot. There could be sporting event innovation here too.
Such additional services that help sellers join and innovate with buyers via the mobile and Internet networks is what Akamai is banking on to elevate its value from perceived bit pipe accelerator to commerce and entertainment value-added partner. The same types of services when brought to the enterprise could allow workers to buy and use business services on an as-needed basis -- or, to gain free or low-cost applications and services when paired with relevant and useful advertising or trial services.
The announcement of Akamai's IP acceleration services for enterprises appears only the beginning of a new set of offerings and a wider strategic role for Akamai, and other WAN services providers, over the next several years.
[Disclosure: Akamai is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts that I produce and moderate.]