That is, major trends have conspired to make inadequate a one-size-fits-all approach to today’s complex network optimization and applications performance demands, says an executive from Akamai Technologies. Rather, more web experiences now need a real-time and dynamic response tailored and refined to the actual use and specifics of that user’s task.
To spotlight this new dynamic, cloud-to-mobile network reality — and to evaluate ways to make all web experiences remain valued, appropriate, and performant — BriefingsDirect welcomes Mike Afergan, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Web Experience Business Unit at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: Akamai Technologies is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Trends that seem to be spurring a different web, a need for a different type of response, given the way that people are using the web now. Let’s start at the top. What are the trends, and what do you mean by a “situational response” to ameliorating this new level of complexity?
Afergan: There are a number of trends, and I’ll highlight a few. There’s clearly been a significant change, and you and I see it in our daily lives in how we, as consumers and employees, interact with this thing that we call the web.
Only a few years ago, most of us interacted with the web by sitting in front of the PC, typing on a keyboard and with a mouse. Today, a large chunk, if not a majority, of our interaction with the web is through different handheld devices or tablets, wi-fi, and through cellular connections. More and more it’s through different modes of interaction.
For example, Siri is a leader in having us speak to the web and ask questions of the web verbally, as opposed to using a keyboard or some sort of touch-screen device. So there are some pretty significant trends in terms of how we interact as consumers or employees, particularly with devices and cellular connectivity.
We’re also seeing websites pull in a variety of content from third parties. Even though you’re going to a website, and it looks like it’s a website of a given retailer, more often than not a large chunk of what you are seeing on that page is actually coming from their business partners or other people that they are working with, which gets integrated and displayed to you.
We’re seeing cellular end-devices as a big trend on the experience side. We’re seeing a number of things happen behind the scenes. What that means is that the web, as we thought about it even a few years ago, is a fundamentally different place today. Each of these interactions with the web is a different experience and these interactions are very different.
A user in Tokyo on a tablet, over a cellular connection, interacting with the website is a very different experience situation than me at my desk in Cambridge, in front of my PC right now with fixed connectivity. This is very different than me or you this evening driving home, with an iPhone or a handheld device, and maybe talking to it via Siri.
Each of these are very different experiences and each of these are what I call different situations. If we want to think about technology around performance and we want to think technology involving Internet, we have to think about these different situations and what technologies are going to be the most appropriate and most beneficial for these different situations.
Gardner: So we have more complexity on the delivery side, perhaps an ecosystem of different services coming together, and we also have more devices, and then of course different networks. And as people think about the cloud, I think the missing word in the cloud is the networks. There are many networks involved here.
Maybe you could help us understand with these trends that delivery is a function of many different services, but also many different networks. How does that come together?
Afergan: There are some trends in which the more things change, the more they stay the same. The way the Internet works fundamentally hasn’t changed. The Internet is still, to use the terminology from over a decade ago, a network of networks. The way that data travels across the Internet behind the scenes is by moving through different networks. Each of those has different operating principles in terms of how they run, and there are always challenges moving from one network to another.
This is why, from the beginning, Akamai has always had a strategy of deploying our services and our servers as close to the users as possible. This is so that, when you and I make a request to a website, it doesn’t have to traverse multiple networks, but rather is served from an Akamai location as close as possible to you.
And even when you have to go all the way across the Internet, for example, to buy something and submit a credit card, we’re finding an intelligent path across the network. That’s always been true at the physical network layer, but as you point out, this notion of networks is being expanded for content providers, websites, and retailers. Think about the set of companies that they work with and the other third parties that they work with almost as a network, as an ecosystem, that really comes together to develop and ultimately create the content that you and I see.
This notion of having these third party application programming interfaces (APIs) in the cloud is a very powerful trend for enterprises that are building websites, but it also obviously creates a number of challenges, both technical and operational, in making sure that you have a reliable, scalable, high-performing web experience for your users.
Gardner: I suppose another big trend nowadays — we’ve mentioned mobile and cloud — is this notion of analytics, big data, trying to be more intelligent, a word you used a moment ago. Is there something about the way that the web has evolved that’s going to allow for more gathering of information about what’s actually taking place on the networks and these end-devices, and then therefore be able to better serve up or produce value as time goes on?
Is the intelligence something that we can measure? Is there a data aspect to this that comes into that situational benefit path?
Afergan: One of the big challenges in this world of different web experience and situations is a greater demand for that type of information. Before, typically, a user was on a PC, using one of a few different types of browsers.
Now, with all these different situations, the need for that intelligence, the need to understand the situation that your user is in — and potentially the changing situation that your user is in as they move from one location to another or one device to another — is even more important than it was a few years ago.
That’s going to be an important trend of understating the situations. Being able to adapt to them dynamically and efficiently is going to be an important trend for the industry in the next few years.
Gardner: What does this mean for enterprises? If I’m a company and I recognize that my employees are going to want more variety and more choice on their devices, I have to deliver apps out to those devices. I also have to recognize that they don’t stop working at 5 pm. Therefore, our opportunity for delivering applications and data isn’t time-based. It’s more of a situational-based demand as well.
I don’t think enterprises want to start building out these network capabilities as well as data and intelligence gathering. So what does it mean for enterprises, as they move toward this different era of the web, and how should they think about responding?
Afergan: You nailed it with that question. Obviously one of the big trends in the industry right now, in the enterprise industry, bring your own device (BYOD). You and I and lots of people listening to this probably see it on a daily basis as we work.
In front of me right now are two different devices that I own and brought into the office today. Lots of my colleagues do the same. We see that as a big trend across our customer base.
More and more employees are bringing their increasingly powerful devices into the office. More and more employees want to be able to access their content in the office via those devices and at home or on the go, on a business trip, over those exact same devices, the way we’ve become accustomed to for our personal information and our personal experiences online.
So the exact same trend that you think about being relevant for consumer-facing websites — multiple devices, cellular connectivity — are really key trends that are being driven from the outside-in, from the employees into the enterprise right now. It’s a challenge for enterprise to be able to keep up. It’s a challenge for enterprises to be able to adapt to those technologies, just like it is for consumer websites.
But for the enterprise, you need to make sure that you are mindful of security, authentication, and a variety of other principles, which are obviously important once you are dealing with enterprise data.
There’s tremendous opportunity. It is a great trend for enterprises, in terms of empowering their employees, empowering their partners, decreasing the total cost of ownership for the devices, and for their users to have access to the information. But it obviously presents some very significant trends and challenges. Number one, obviously, is keeping up with those trends, but number two, doing it in a way that’s both authenticated and secure at the same time.
Gardner: Based on a lot of the analyst reports that we’re seeing, the adoption of cloud services and software-as-a-service (SaaS) services by enterprises is expected to grow quite rapidly in the coming years. If I’m an enterprise, whether I’m serving up data and applications to my employees, my business partners, and/or end consumers, it doesn’t seem to make sense to get cloud services, bring them into the enterprise, and then send them back out through a network to those people. It sounds like this is moving from a data center that I control type of a service into something that’s in the cloud itself as well.
So are we reading that correctly — that even your bread and butter, Global 2000 enterprise has to start thinking about network services in this context of a situational web?
Afergan: Exactly. The good news is that most thoughtful enterprises are already doing that. It doesn’t make it easier overnight, but they’re already having those conversations. You’re exactly right. Once you recognize the fact that your employees, your partners are going to want to interact with these applications on their devices, wherever they may be, you pretty quickly realize that you can’t build out a dedicated network, a dedicated infrastructure, that’s going to service them in all the locations that they are going to need to be.
All of a sudden, you’re now talking about putting those applications into the cloud, so that those users can access them on any device, anywhere, anytime. At that point in time, you’re now building to a cloud architecture, which obviously brings a lot of promise and a lot of opportunity, but then some challenges associated with it.
Gardner: I’ll just add one more point on the enterprise, because I track enterprise IT issues more specifically than the general web. IT service management, service level agreements (SLAs), governance policy and management via rules that can be repeatable are all very important to IT as well.
Is there something about a situational network optimization and web delivery that comes to play when it relates to governance policy and management vis-à-vis rules; I guess what you’d call service-delivery architecture?
Afergan: That’s a great question, and I’ve had that conversation with several enterprises. To some degree, every enterprise is different and every application is somewhat different, which even makes the situational point you are making all the more true.
For some enterprises, the requirements they have around those applications are ubiquitous and those need to be held true independent of the situation. In other cases, you have certain requirements around certain applications that may be different if the employee is on premises, within your VPN, in your country, or out of the country. All of a sudden, those situations became all the more complicated.
As each of these enterprises that we have been working with think through the challenges that you just listed, it’s very much a situational conversation. How do you build one architecture that allows you to adapt to those different situations?
Gardner: I think we have described the problem fairly well. It’s understood. What do we start thinking about when it comes to solving this problem? How can we get a handle on these different types of traffic with complexity and variability on the delivery end, on the network end, and then on the receiving end, and somehow make it rational and something that could be a benefit to our business?
Afergan: It’s obviously the challenge that we at Akamai spend a lot of time thinking about and working with our customers on. Obviously, there’s no one, simple answer to all of that, but I’ll offer a couple of different pieces.
We believe it requires starting with a good overall, fundamentally sound architecture. That’s an architecture that is globally distributed and gives you a platform where you don’t have to — to answer some of your earlier questions — worry about some of the different networks along the way, and worry about some of the core, fundamental Internet challenges that really haven’t changed since the mid-’90s in terms of reliability and performance of the core Internet.
But then it should allow you to build on top of that for some of the cloud-based and situational-based challenges that you have today. That requires a variety of technologies that will, number one, address, and number two, adapt to situations that you’re talking about.
Let’s go through a couple of the examples that we’ve already spoken about. If you’re an enterprise worrying about your user on a cellular connection in Hong Kong, versus you’re the same enterprise worrying about the same application for a user on a desktop fixed-connection based in New York City, the performance challenges and the performance optimizations that you want to make are going to be fundamentally different.
There is a core set of things that you need to have in place in all those cases. You need to have an intelligent platform that’s going to understand the situation and make an appropriate decision based on that situation. This will include a variety of technical variables, as well as just a general understanding of what the end user is trying to do.
… You need to have an underlying architecture that allows you to operate across a variety of the parties you mentioned.
For example, we talked about a variety of networks, a variety of ISPs. You need to have one architecture that allows you to operate across all of them. You can’t go and build different architecture and different solution ISP by ISP, network by network, or country by country. There’s no way you’re going to build a scalable solution there. So first and foremost, you need that overall ubiquitous architecture.
The second thing you need is significant intelligence to be able to make those decisions on the fly, determine what the situation, and what would be the most beneficial solution and technology applied to that situation.
The third thing you need is the right set of APIs and tools that ultimately allows the enterprise, the customer, to control what’s happening, because across these situations sometimes there is no absolute right answer. In some cases, you might want to suddenly degrade the fidelity of the experience to have it be a faster experience for the user.
Across all of these, having the underlying overall architecture that gives you the ubiquity, having the intelligence that allows you to make decisions in real-time, and having the right APIs and tools are things that ultimately we at Akamai spend a lot of time worrying about.
We sit in a unique position to offer this to our customers, working closely with them and their partners. And all of these things, which have been important to us for over a decade now, are even more important as we sail into this more complicated situationally driven world.
Gardner: We’re almost out of time, but I wonder about on-ramps or adoption paths for organizations like enterprises to move toward this greater ability to manage the complexity that we’re now facing. Perhaps it’s the drive to mobility, perhaps it’s the consumption of more cloud services, perhaps it’s the security- and governance and risk and compliance-types issues like that, or all of the above. Any sense of how people would find the best path to get started and any recommendations on how to get started?
Afergan: Ultimately, each company has a set of challenges and opportunities that they’re working through at any point in time. For us, it begins with getting on the right platform and thinking about the key challenges that are driving your business.
Mobility clearly is a key trend that is driving a lot of our customers to understand and appreciate the challenges of situational performance and then try to adapt it in the right way. How do I understand what the right devices are? How do I make sure that when a user moves to a less performing network, I still give them a high quality experience?
For some of our customers it’s, “Wait a minute. Now, I have all these different experiences. Each one of these is a great opportunity for my business. Each one of these is a great opportunity for me to drive revenue. But each one of these is now a security vulnerability for my business, and I have to make sure that I secure it.”
Each enterprise is addressing these in a slightly different way, but I think the key point is understanding that the web really has moved from basic websites to these much more sophisticated web experiences.
The web experiences are varied across different situations and overall web performance is a key on-ramp. Mobility is another key on-ramp that you, and security would be a third initial starting point. Some of our customers are trying to take a very complicated problem and look at it through a much more manageable lens, so they can start moving in the right direction.
You may also be interested in:
- Akamai Stepping up from CDN to the Cloud
- Akamai Seeks Larger Role in China’s Web Security
- As Cloud and Mobile Trends Drive User Expectations Higher, Notworks Must Now Deliver Applications Faster, Safer, Cheaper
- Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast on Media Delivery with Akamai CTO Mike Afergan
- Focusing on Applications Key to Enabling Strong Security in Emerging Cloud Models