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Akamai Launches Traffic Management Service

Increasing numbers of content providers are operating from geographically distributed Web servers and Akamai Technologies Inc. is hoping to exploit that niche with the launch of its new global traffic management service, FirstPoint, launched Monday.

IBM Global Services, a division of IBM Corp. , apparently sees potential in the new service. The company has expanded its relationship with Akamai to become the first reseller of FirstPoint.

The new service, already in use by portal giant Yahoo! and Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch Inc., is intended to maximize the performance and availability of mirrored Web sites. It is built on enhancements to Akamai's core intelligent routing technology and combines real-time global Internet monitoring with performance data on a content provider's Web servers.

"FirstPoint constantly monitors network traffic conditions and performance of a customer's Web site," said George Kurian, vice president and general manager of content delivery services, Akamai . "It builds up a real-time map of data that is used to direct inbound traffic to the most optimal Web server. This in turn ensures that Web e-businesses have the highest performance and availability of their Web site for end users."

One of FirstPoint's more important innovations is in the way it measures congestion, Kurian said. FirstPoint measures packet loss in addition to latency. Most systems rely on a measurement of latency, the lag time between sending a request and getting a response.

"Understanding congestion requires a combination of both," Kurian said, adding that high packet loss would lead to increased latency. By measuring both, FirstPoint can detect congestion missed by solutions that rely on latency alone.

Kurian added that the most important benefit of this is that it maximizes Web page availability. He noted that first-time visitors to a Web site rarely return to a site that is down when they surf to it. By driving down abandonment rates, FirstPoint enables content providers to catch eyeballs and revenue that would otherwise have been lost, he said.

Kurian also said that FirstPoint can improve responsiveness for end users. He referred to customer trials pitting FirstPoint against other load balancing solutions which found that FirstPoint increased average performance of a connection by 30 to 35 percent.

FirstPoint is designed to work seamlessly with FreeFlow, Akamai's flagship service for delivery of Web content, streaming media and Internet applications. FreeFlow off-loads rich content from a central Web site and distributes it throughout the Akamai network so it can be served quickly and efficiently. Together, Kurian said, the two services ensure the best online experience possible.

Alex Benik, an analyst with The Yankee Group, agreed.

"I think it's a very complementary service to the existing content delivery service they have," Benik said. He anticipates a positive reaction from investors and Akamai customers. "It's probably going to be an attractive upsell to their existing customers."

He noted that Cisco Systems and F5 Networks Inc. do offer hardware that performs a function similar to FirstPoint but those products are focused on redundancy, not performance.

FirstPoint is available immediately at $5,500 per month per location.