Akamai Using P2P for Enhanced Video Delivery

Akamai has been looking for a way to implement P2P in a useful way for a while. Since their April 2007 acquisition of RedSwoosh they have kept pretty quiet about their intentions. Now, it appears that we’re beginning to see it in use.

Today Akamai and NFL.com released a High Quality video experience which requires a client side download called Akamai NetSession which “connects your machine and other end user machines and uses those machines’ capacity to help speed delivery.” According to the download’s EULA:

The Akamai NetSession Interface accomplishes this by coordinating all caches of content on the Akamai network, including caches on end user machines as well as web servers and other sources. In order to speed the download process, the Akamai NetSession Interface:

  • connects end user machines to use multiple sources of data;
  • Looks for faster/nearer sources of a file;
  • Routes your download around network congestion and traffic spikes.

So it seems that Akamai has integrated P2P technology into its CDN and finally has a large scale client using it in the NFL. Akamai says it “greatly enhances the quality and speed of downloads and video streams you get from websites that support Akamai technology”, and considering the Akamai client list includes just about every major media company worldwide, it could foreseeable reach a critical mass of users very quickly.

Back in 2008, I first noticed that Akamai was redirecting traffic from RedSwoosh.net to a site for Akamai Network Manager, a client-side application, integrated into applications offered by existing Akamai clients that “handles the caching, reflecting and sending of files delivered to you through the Akamai network.” RedSwoosh.net has since been taken down entirely.

This sounded a lot like the evolution of Akamai’s P2P strategy – integrating peering into their existing CDN to make it more efficient so I reached out for comment and received the following response from an Akamai spokesperson at that time:

There’s been no change in our strategy since the acquisition. We think over time that end user resources and client-side software will become a component of how we operate at scale and economic efficiency.

Because there were no major clients or examples of the product in use back then I decided not to write about it, but the practical use of P2P technology in the world’s largest CDN is important.

You will find few references to the term peer-to-peer on the NetSession website. It’s a become a bad word to media companies, strongly tied to piracy, and Akamai downplays the role of what they call “client-to-client delivery capabilities.” But this is what Akamai is doing, and the NFL is now a partner using P2P technology to improve the viewer experience for fans and lower the cost of delivery.

If implemented on a more widespread basis Silverlight and/or Flash, this would offer a major competitive advantage for Akamai as a CDN, and an answer to the question of how to effectively use P2P for content delivery.