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RealTime IT News

Microsoft Turns to Akamai for Backup

By Gavin McCormick
Managing Editor, boston.internet.com

Shares of Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ:AKAM) climbed Monday morning after the Cambridge, Mass., company was hired by Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) to back up one of its server networks and alleviate the hacker attacks that blocked traffic to Microsoft Web sites last week.

Akamai has apparently taken over four of the eight servers Microsoft uses for its domain-name server network. DNS computers translate Web address names, such as www.microsoft.com or www.MSN.com, into numerical addresses required to get access to the Seattle company's actual Web servers.

Web developers sharply criticized the design of Microsoft's DNS network after significant outages hit the company's sites last week. The servers were configured into the same section of Microsoft's corporate network, meaning that if that section failed, no back-up system was available to handle data traffic.

Hiring Akamai alleviates that problem. Akamai runs a network of 8,000 servers that deliver content of many popular Web sites, including Yahoo. Akamai directs Web traffic through its own servers when data clogs the main Internet backbone delivery network, speeding the content to users -- and adding a layer of security against hacker attacks.

Akamai will apparently operate half of Microsoft's DNS network, with servers in London and three U.S. cities (network addresses suggest New York, Chicago and Santa Clara, Calif.). That means hackers would be unable to stop Microsoft's Web traffic by flooding just one location, as they did last week.

Akamai spokespeople failed to respond to phone calls Monday morning. AKAM shares were up 2.125, or 7 percent, at 31.875 in Monday morning trading. MSFT was down 0.6875, or 1 percent, at 63.3125.

Outages first hit Microsoft Tuesday when one of its own workers evidently misconfigured a DNS router, a device designed to smooth the flow of data traffic throughout the network. When reports of that outage noted Microsoft's flawed network design, hackers jumped at the opportunity to mess with the software giant.

They flooded the DNS network with millions of electronic messages, preventing users from seeing all Microsoft sites, including Hotmail.com MSNBC.com, for almost five hours on Thursday and two 15-minute periods on Friday.

In a statement, Microsoft spokesman Rick Devenuti said the company had learned "painful lessons" from the hacker attacks, adding that it "did not apply sufficient self-defense techniques" to its network.

In an aside, one network security expert noted that Microsoft has apparently shifted to a system that relies on the Linux operating system, a direct competitor to Microsoft's Windows software.

Matt Power, a developer who works on the RAZOR team of Bindview Corp., said programs that can guess the operating system used by any Internet site suggest that Akamai's servers use the Linux operating system for their network implementation.

Power called it "highly unlikely" that the Akamai servers are running on Windows -- no small irony in a story about Microsoft attempting to improve its Internet network security.



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