CBR talks to the web application acceleration and performance management stalwart Akamai about protecting credit card details, cloud computing and hitting those billion dollar milestones
2010 saw Akamai hit $1bn in revenue for the first time. What was behind that and how do you plan on continuing that growth?
It was a long road and there was a lot of hard work to get there. Now we’re focused on how to go to $5bn. The way we think about it is classes of products, each of which can become a billion dollar company within the company.
Then there are the geographies. Most of our revenue was from North America but as we look at the Internet we see Asia providing most of the Internet [users] in the near future. Europe is potentially a bigger market than North America. Most of our investment now is outside North America.
We came from the content/object delivery market; software downloads, movies, songs, something that is cacheable. That side of things is still providing revenue and profit but a lot of our growth over the last few years has been in application acceleration. We hope to grow that to a billion dollar business.
Then there is mobile. Today relatively little online traffic outside Asia is wireless but that’s going to change. There are opportunities and challenges there: building out the capacity in the wireless networks, for example. You have to make sure the site looks good on a mobile device as well.
We’ve also invested a lot in security and hope that will be a big business for us.
Can you please go into more detail about your security offerings?
At the base level it’s about the prevention of attacks. DDoS against commerce sites that we’ve seen have gone up by a factor of 10 in the last year, it’s really amazing. Part of that is around WikiLeaks and people getting the idea they could do it, part of it is the elevation of organised crime and extortion, such as demanding payment to not bring a website down again.
It’s definitely on the radar as it’s very expensive if sites are down. Our service is unique in being able to stop the attacks where they originate. If you’re getting attacked out of Korea or Taiwan we’ll stop the traffic there. It won’t even reach the UK. The only alternative to that is doing it in your data centre with the co-operation of your network provider. With the scale of attacks we’re seeing now, with 2k times the amount of traffic, you can’t do it. You’ll get swamped.
We’re in beta now with technology to prevent credit card theft. It’s called tokenisation. The way things work traditionally is if you’re buying something online from an Akamai customer your browser sends us your credit card information. We pass it back to the merchant. They store it. The bad guys know that, break in and steal it.
That sounds like Sony territory we’re moving into. [Although it hasn’t been confirmed that credit card details were stolen in the massive hack of Sony’s PlayStation Network]
We would have stopped the credit card theft because they wouldn’t have the credit card details. The way it works is that now when you give us the credit card instead of us sending it to the merchant we send it to the merchant’s gateway, such as CyberSource. When we send it to CyberSource they make a token, which is a random number. That number is tied only to that merchant for that card number. They send us back the token and we send it to the merchant, who stores the token. If the token is stolen they have nothing but random numbers that only have meaning if they can prove they are the merchant, which they cannot do.
The value is that you don’t get the nasty headlines and credit cards don’t get stolen.
When do you expect to see this product hit the market?
We’re in beta at the moment; we hope to hit a limited availability over the next quarter. I don’t have a GA date but hope it’s not too far in the future.
What has cloud computing meant for your business?
Cloud’s exploding. If as a business you move your desktop or applications out of your office to the cloud it moves farther away. Things are really fast when it’s going across a three-foot cord but things slow down when it moves many miles away, thousands in some cases. Security also comes into play with a shared infrastructure. Maybe the guy next to you is getting attacked and you get swamped out because of the traffic flood at the pipes.
That creates performance and security issues and that’s our business; to make the performance better and make your applications more secure. The move to the cloud is great for us.
You are very big on partnerships with recent deals with both Riverbed and IBM but do you think your company would fit better as part of a wider systems management player?
If I were a big company I’d want to buy us! We’re a unique entity, nobody does things like we do, nobody has the technology we’ve developed. And we do things that are important for the Internet. There’s tremendous potential. It’s natural to see rumours from time to time about a much bigger entity having an interest in Akamai. Our goal is to work with all of those big players. I would guess that as long as we’re successful there will be rumours.