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Friday, 17 April 2020 09:26

Akamai working hard to keep the pipes from being blocked

Akamai working hard to keep the pipes from being blocked Pixabay

Content delivery network Akamai has been working with game publishers during the COVID-19 lockdown to manage downloads of patches issued by the latter, files which often run to tens of gigabytes, in order to ensure that the load on the Internet is kept to the minimum, officials from the company say.

Ari Weil, vice-president of Product Marketing, said that updates for games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare averaged out at between 50GB and 70GB – with the initial game download running to 120Gb or even more.

Weil cited the data to provide some relatable data points while discussing how Akamai was managing congestion during a period when more people are working from home worldwide than ever before.

"So when you think about tens of millions of people around the globe sheltering in place, the frequency at which publishers and distribution platforms are pushing updates, and the rising popularity of online gaming across multiple demographics, this can give you some perspective on how the concept of peak traffic is evolving right before our eyes," he said.

The company said that ever since traffic began to increase exponentially, regulators, carriers and content providers were all taking steps to cut down on the load during peak traffic times in order to avert online gridlock.

Akamai Media Product Management director Rishi Varma told iTWire that the company was able to manage one kind of downloads - background downloads - so that the strain on network resources was minimal.

"Downloads can be of two different types," Varma said in response to a query. "First, there are the 'foreground downloads' that happen on-screen while someone has clicked 'download now' and is waiting for it to be finished. These cannot be pushed to off-peak hours – it’s an on-demand download that needs to happen while it’s requested.

Varma said video streaming was in this category. "Then there are 'background downloads' and these are typically patches, firmware updates, over the air updates, etc," he said.

"Heavy game downloads are under this bucket and given the large size of files, they are usually left to run in the background. By working in tandem with publishers, we help to schedule these off-peak downloads depending on the geography. This helps the network operators considerably. Some publishers also choose to pre-position content depending on user behaviour and recommendations."

Varma said Akamai used the massive distribution of its network — it has more than 4100 locations globally — to control now content was delivered.

"This [the distribution] gives customers the scale and the geographic reach to deploy and reach users across the globe," he explained.

"The control for how you want to deliver this across the network is controlled online and policies and configurations can be pushed to all of the geographies quickly, in a matter of minutes. This gives companies the flexibility to set rules and configurations that are applicable to different geographies from the Control Centre."

Asked about best practices that users could follow during this period to avoid contributing to the congestion, Varma replied: "We like to think of the Internet in three segments: the first mile, what connects data centres to the rest of the larger Internet; the middle mile, which forms the large bulk of different interconnected networks that form the Internet; and the last mile, the links that users connect from homes and desktops and mobile phones.

"Most of the connectivity issues including network congestion are really in the middle mile. Our strategy is to go right to the edge, as close to the end users as possible. We are a single hop away from 90% of Internet users.

"We solve the middle mile problem by bringing the content down to these servers close to the end users, so they can be served locally – versus hauling the traffic all the way across the pipes and blocking them."

Varma said Akamai could not provide guidance for companies that chose to use applications like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype or other apps; it was left to corporate CIOs to manage things.

"With more people working from home than ever before, businesses are facing new challenges including users’ local devices struggling to the run the latest version of apps or home Wi-Fi being congested with four people simultaneously streaming," he said.

"The challenge of supporting these demands of working from home rests with corporate CIOs, who must adapt their connectivity and access to support remote workers. As a result, we’re seeing more businesses expand their VPN capacity and implement new methodologies like Zero Trust access architectures, to support an increase in remote user volumes and provide secure access to technologies."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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