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Apple Playing Both Sides of the CDN Fence

As Apple’s digital content offerings grow, Content Delivery Network Limelight Networks has managed to swipe some of Apple’s business away from rival CDN, and long time Apple partner Akamai Technologies.

Apple pushes huge amounts of digital content over the internet. From Mac OS X updates, iPhone apps, videos, music, software and everything in between. When delivering so much content to users around the world, using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is crucial for stability and making sure downloads and heavy, large files come through without a glitch. MacBlogz is actually hosted on the Mosso Cloud, which has a CDN API available, which we have been considering for quite some time. Because we don’t get that many image hotlinks, or push large videos and images, it’s not so necessary right now. But as any site begins to grow in size and visibility beyond what general servers, or hosting grids can offer, CDN’s provide content delivery at up to 3 times the speed and stability.

Akamai Technologies is an incredibly high profile company that delivers content through its CDN to customers like KickApps, MySpace, Adobe, MTV, Verizon, The NBA, Apple and more. They have been delivering content for Apple for quite a while. Depending on what browser you’re using and what page of Apple’s website you’re visiting, sometimes you can spot an Akamai domain or metrics sub-domain in the loading progress as the page loads.

Back in 2006, Akamai sued Limelight over some patent disputes. In respect to both companies, there’s some really high-level proprietary technology in place that is probably fairly similar to the others, so a lawsuit was not that surprising. Especially when Limelight secured major customers like Youtube and Brightcove, CBS, and Microsoft’s XBox live. “MIT and Akamai allege that Limelight is infringing on Patent # 6,108,703 and patent # 6,553,413. Both patents were issued to MIT and are licensed exclusively to Akamai,” the court documents read. Akamai went on to prevail in court and win a sizable amount of money (specifics are here).

Interestingly, as Silicon Alley Insider’s Dan Frommer notes, Limelight Networks has recently been able to snatch up some of Apple’s business away from its arch-rival Akamai Technologies. CDN industry watcher Dan Rayburn explains, “I don’t know what parameters Apple uses to decide how they redirect a user’s request to one CDN over another, but it appears much of it could be based on the geographic location the user is coming from as I also noticed this exact same QuickTime update getting delivered from Akamai depending on what city the user was located in.”

A big perk of using CDN’s is the ability to redundantly serve out thousands of versions of a particular piece of content depending on where a user accesses it from geographically. Rayburn also saw this happening with “OSX updates, application downloads from the Apple.com site (like the iLife trial) iPhones software updates and some apps for the iPhone app store.” The changes started taking place in November, as the Limelight domain name “llnw.net” wasn’t spotted prior. Also, around the holiday season Limelight’s domains were spotted pushing out HD video along with other other high demand content.

However the deal is arranged, it’s clear that Apple trusts both companies with delivering equally crucial content. The dual arrangement isn’t new, and it’s not a stab towards either particular company. If Apple feels that both Limelight and Akamai can help them deliver their digital data over the web, then redundancy and stability is most likely the key element at play here. Web-based services and digital content delivery can be tricky, costly and leave a bad stain on the industry as more and more companies evolve into the digital age. What Apple users experienced in the summer of 2008 with Mobile Me, was a prime example of a company shocking its users with the notion of “cloud computing.” Apple is focused on increasing stability, speed and reliability however it can. Rolling out the iWork.com beta for free, and with a “beta” tag shows that they’ve learned. Utilizing two powerful CDN’s to push their content around shows that they care.

Note: Sorry about the previous typos, a previous version of the post snuck through. All better now.

Comments [5]

5 Comments to “Apple Playing Both Sides of the CDN Fence”

Eric @ January 28th, 2009 at 12:57 pm
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I never even paid attention to the loading bar at the bottom of the browser. Just did – Kinda crazy.

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jojo22 @ January 28th, 2009 at 12:58 pm
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Akamai has awesome videos of this space or Star Trek like grid that they have and monitor things from. It’s AWESOME ! here’s a link http://www.akamai.com/html/technology/nocc.html consider yourself blown away

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Mii22 @ January 28th, 2009 at 2:23 pm
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in depth. nice article. not just a bunch of quotes like some other websites covering this.

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Aviv @ January 28th, 2009 at 3:09 pm
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Thanx Mii: It’s pretty interesting stuff if you ask me.

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kris @ January 29th, 2009 at 11:57 am
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Aviv, can you tell me about the move to Mosso and where you moved from and why you moved to Mosso? I know there’s no SSH access in their cloud so how do you do MacBlogz without SSH?

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