A Viable HD Web Experience…

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Akamai powers the visual web…

They are the leading provider of edge based content caching for the efficient distribution of high bandwidth media. To make this work, Akamai have built a content distribution network with ‘edge servers’ that live at the data centers of most major ISPs.

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Clients of Akamai leverage these servers to efficiently deliver different types of media without having to build out their own infrastructure and – more importantly – without having to worry about any of the network latency issues (delays) centralized delivery across the web entails.

Akamai will deliver media to a user from the cache server closest to them – usually right at the ISP they are linked to. And if the closest cache server doesn’t happen to have something a user is asking for, it will pull it at high speed from it’s nearest cache neighbor that does.

This ‘low latency’ approach becomes critical for delivering content like video.

Video files are big and require significant bandwidth. And they could even require a ‘faster than real time’ delivery for progressive downloads that need to support a viewing experience without delays or interuptions. Akamai plays a big role in making that happen today. If you’ve ever downloaded a video off of iTunes, or watched one of the movie previews offered there, you’ve gotten it from an Akamai server.

Earlier this week, Akamai made a significant announcement.

They’re now tuning their network to support high def video…

There are some real technical hurdles with delivering HD video over the web, but they are probably less daunting than the issues that were challenging basic video delivery over the web less than a decade ago.

But for Akamai, this is more than simply a technology play. They seem to be intent on becoming the disruptive agent in the traditional vs IP based content delivery space:

“We are also committed to the long-term objective of building an ecosystem linking content owners, network providers and video platform players to ensure a superior HD web experience wherever last-mile infrastructure permits.”

This is clearly aimed at giving users a viable choice in video delivery beyond cable and satellite providers. And unlike even Verizon’s FIOS delivered IP video service, it makes it possible for independent content producers to reach their desired audience without having to negoiate with a middle man to ‘carry their programming’. And it can all be delivered without compromise – viewers will have a full HD experience worthy of their investment in their HD displays.

A big challenge in delivering HD video will ultimately come from the ‘last mile’ providers Akamai makes reference to in the quote above. Broadband service in this country trails that of other places in the world (especially the Pacific Rim) in both penetration and performance. And that will continue to place us at a disadvantage when it comes to adopting new and innovative services in this country.

This is something we’ll need to address.

DSL is simply too slow for this type of content, and the only real alternative is from cable companies or Verizon’s FIOS – both likely to be hurt by any significant shift to a more open video delivery model. I don’t see them going out of their way to help Akamai on this one.

And this comes back to us needing to address something else.

Net Neutrality…

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  • http://handsoff.org HOTI Dave

    Good post. You’re right, this does eventually turn back to net neutrality. Akamai is certainly doing some interesting things, and I wonder if anyone thinks they could run into trouble the same way ISP’s plans for QOS are being threatened with legislation.

    The end result of the product is much the same. And since the content companies seem more results-oriented than process-oriented in calling for regulations. They would like to lock in their lead in the marketplace right now, and are only passing it off as an altruistic endeavor.

    I wrote a post about this some months ago for the Hands Off the Internet blog: http://handsoff.org/blog/tiered-service/let-go-akamai-internet/

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this came up again.