Apple taps Limelight to fortify booming digital download biz

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
Apple is no longer relying solely on one content delivery network to help serve up its swelling catalog of digital media content, iPhone apps and software updates, according to a published report.



Frost & Sullivan analyst Dan Rayburn points out in a post at BusinessofVideo.com that he's starting to see Apple content normally delivered by Akamai Technologies periodically coming from servers operated by rival Limelight Networks. The rotation between the two providers may hinge on where the end user is geographically located, he suggests.



"As an example, my OS X updates always came from Akamai domains," wrote Rayburn, who also serves as the executive vice president for StreamingMedia.com. *"Last Friday, Apple released an update to QuickTime, version 7.6, and the update came from the Limelight network out of a Seattle POP. (cds.303.sea.llnw.net)."



Cambridge-based content delivery network (CDN) Akamai was incorporated in August 1998. *According to its website, the company owns 40,000 servers in 70 countries and claims to deliver 10-20% of all Web traffic. *Tempe-based Limelight was founded in 2001 and claims approximately 1300 companies as clients as of May 2007. *The CDN's website says Limelight uses a fiber-optic network with "thousands of servers".



Improved Reliability



Rayburn believes this change is a sign Apple's traffic is growing at a "crazy" rate from its App Store and iTunes Store platforms, along with the usual stream of software updates and trial versions of software like iWork '09.



"Moving to a dual-vendor strategy should help keep Apple's services from having future performance issues" like the service outages that complicated the launches of iPhone 3G and MobileMe, said Rayburn.



While using an additional CDN can be complicated with two contracts, two sets of raw logs, and two kinds of reporting, it can be worth it to never suffer any downtime by relying too heavily on any one provider of digital content.



"We already know that no CDN has unlimited capacity and can only handle so much traffic at any given time and if you are Apple, using more than one CDN is just smart business," he said.



Rayburn said Akamai and Limelight's networks offer similar performance from the customer's perspective, and he wouldn't be surprised to see Apple strengthen its partnership with Limelight, as giving the CDN only a small amount of traffic "defeats the whole purpose of why you have a dual-vendor strategy to begin with."



Background



A Microsoft Research paper made available in October but pulled shortly thereafter concluded that Akamai and Limelight have small performance differences in the North America but a "big gap" in Europe and Asia. The researchers counted 27,000 content servers in Akamai's worldwide network and 4,100 belonging to Limelight.



Soon after the paper came out, Akamai and Limelight responded, saying the researchers erred in using only two factors - server uptime and single-packet latency - to measure performance. *Akamai explained their use of software algorithms to direct traffic only to responsive machines is responsible for the false conclusion that Akamai's network is less available.



"All their conclusion really points out is that a portion of our network is not in use at any time," Akamai told Rayburn, adding that their automatic fault detection means not every machine or location has to be up and running all the time. *The researchers, Akamai concludes, "bypassed" the company's mapping system, resulting in false readings.



On the company blog, Limelight's communications director said if the researchers had measured "uptime associated with actual server IP addresses provided in CDN DNS resolutions, weighted by the object demand per resolution", the two companies would have been "essentially comparable, both with very high availability, likely over 99.9%."



Apple Showing Growth



Squabbling between the two competitors aside, the decision to add Limelight's services to Apple's longtime partnership with Akamai seems to signal Apple's rapidly expanding online business, driving sales of iPod touch and iPhones in the process.



Just two weeks ago, Apple announced more than 500 million applications have been downloaded from the App Store, as per-day downloads doubled since early December. *Meanwhile, Apple sold 22.7 million iPods last quarter, with a "growing share" of that number representing iPod touch sales, according to Apple vice president of iPod and iPhone product marketing Greg Joswiak.



The iTunes Music Store, featuring now DRM-free music as well as television shows and movies, also contributes considerably to Apple's need to broaden and reinforce its distribution networks.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    As the owner of a data center myself, I just can't fathom how big that bandwidth bill is each month.
  • Reply 2 of 16
    virgil-tb2virgil-tb2 Posts: 1,416member
    Wow. Really, really, slow news day or what?



    I'm starting to wish for "Steve Jobs has Cancer" stories again.
  • Reply 3 of 16
    kasperkasper Posts: 941member, administrator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    Wow. Really, really, slow news day or what?



    I'm starting to wish for "Steve Jobs has Cancer" stories again.



    Dude, common. I'm not going to stand for comments like that. And we like to cover all facets of Apple's business and diversify our content. This topic may be of little interest -- or boring -- to you, but hopefully some others will appreciate it.



    K
  • Reply 4 of 16
    virgil-tb2virgil-tb2 Posts: 1,416member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Kasper View Post


    Dude, common. I'm not going to stand for comments like that. And we like to cover all facets of Apple's business and diversify our content. This topic may be of little interest -- or boring -- to you, but hopefully some others will appreciate it.



    K



    Sorry, meant in jest only.
  • Reply 5 of 16
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 1,819member
    Makes you wonder just how much internet traffic originates from Apple.



    If you consider a song is on average 3MB in size (and that doubles with iTunes+ songs) and Apple's current sell rate is about 2 billion songs a year, it means Apple pushes 6 Petabytes from songs alone. That's 6,000,000,000,000,000 Bytes!
  • Reply 6 of 16
    Though you won't find quotes on their websites, I just did some research on CDN and, for what it's worth, Limelight has an extremely capable CDN at about 1/2 the price of Akamai. (Of course I hope Apple's mammoth amounts of Data qualify them for a big discount over what we were quoted).
  • Reply 7 of 16
    dogcowdogcow Posts: 713member
    iTunes and OS X should have an optional bittorrent client built in order to distribute media and updates (legally. media would be DRM stamped by itunes during download as usual, but the data can come from anywhere). That would be thinking different (and save on their operating costs).
  • Reply 8 of 16
    I found it intresting
  • Reply 9 of 16
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member
    Makes me think maybe they are gearing up for the online aspects of the new iWork apps.
  • Reply 10 of 16
    it's always been said that "adult entertainment" would be the ideal deliverable by which to build and test a scalable content distribution network.



    limelight's the poster child for that model.
  • Reply 11 of 16
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Dogcow View Post


    iTunes and OS X should have an optional bittorrent client built in order to distribute media and updates (legally. media would be DRM stamped by itunes during download as usual, but the data can come from anywhere). That would be thinking different (and save on their operating costs).



    I seem to remember hearing a similar idea/rumour a few years ago. Can't remember where I read it but it claimed Apple had been investigating the use of BitTorrent to distribute software updates.
  • Reply 12 of 16
    -cj--cj- Posts: 58member
    It is just good business sense to use more than one CDN. Partly because it's never good to have all your eggs in one basket, but also because each CDN has architectural differences that makes them better at certain tasks. Limelight Networks touts simpler scalability as a benefit over Akamai. With how fast Apple has to ramp up it's needs, I'm not surprised they are including Limelight in their CDN solutions.
  • Reply 13 of 16
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    Wow. Really, really, slow news day or what?



    I'm starting to wish for "Steve Jobs has Cancer" stories again.



    I too found it quite interesting. It's nice to see Apple taking care of some of the problems we all experienced on iPhone 3G launch day. btw... that "must be a slow news day" is so old and tiresome and swear I see it on here once a week from someone. If you don't like the article don't say shit and move on or tell us a compelling reason why you don't like it. Otherwise you just show your ignorance. It's not any better than the douchebags who say "1st comment" in the comment section on blogs. It's worthless and of no use to anyone.



    I probably overreacted so that is all.
  • Reply 14 of 16
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    Sorry, meant in jest only.



    If that's your idea of jesting, keep it to yourself.



    This is an Apple oriented site, so this is information that is quite interesting.



    Thanks for the article, and some of the enlightening ensuing comments!



    Greg
  • Reply 15 of 16
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    They're not "equivalent performance" for me, since my ISP has an Akamai server on site, but not the other one.



    Akamai always maxes out my DSL at 800k/s, but when I am unlucky enough to need something not on Akamai, such as happened yesterday with the iPhone OS update, it is about 200k/s.
  • Reply 16 of 16
    Stage6 was on Limelight, and that was fast and huge, snif!

    i miss it.

    The .Mac was very slow in Europe. Software updates are really fast, but not ever.
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