New Akamai service optimizes content delivery for device, network conditions

Aqua Ion service includes ability to dynamically adapt connection for IPv6, IPv4

Akamai Technologies will announce on Tuesday a new service for improving website performance that determines the type of device and network a user has -- and whether the device has an IPv4 or IPv6 address -- and then improves the delivery of Web content accordingly.

The new service, dubbed Aqua Ion, uses technology that Akamai acquired in February from Blaze Software, a Canadian maker of a front-end optimization service. Blaze's cloud-based service automatically optimizes the code on a Web page during the delivery process to ensure faster delivery to a PC, tablet or smartphone.

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Akamai is offering a range of what it calls "situational performance" capabilities in Aqua Ion, including the ability to compress images based on real-time network conditions and to respond to requests based on the screen size of the device.

"If you look at 2007 or 2008, most people were on a PC with good Wi-Fi connectivity or they were connected to some sort of LAN and most of them had Internet Explorer as their browser. ... But today that's not how we interact with the Web. There a number of different devices -- smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, set-top boxes -- and the type of connectivity is getting much more varied. It could be a congested wireless network, 3G or LTE. It could be an IPv4 or IPv6 address. When you optimize performance for all of those situations, you really have to be specific about what situation you're trying to optimize for,'' explained Ravi Maira, vice president of Web performance products at Akamai.

While IPv6 adaptation is just one feature of Aqua Ion, it will be increasingly important as the Internet runs out of IPv4 addresses and some carriers and Web content providers use translation mechanisms such as carrier-grade NATs and IPv4 address sharing, which could slow performance.

"Typically, you will find some sort of conversion between IPv4 and IPv6 that is happening in the middle of the Internet, but those conversions points can be very congested because such a small percentage of the Internet is IPv6 enabled and they may not be in the best path," Maira said. "Our platform enables us to accelerate an IPv6 request to edge services by turning it back to IPv4 to go through our network using the best path."

Maira emphasized that Aqua Ion is not an alternative to Web content providers supporting IPv6 directly. "We still want our customers to support IPV6 on their own infrastructure," he added. "This is not a replacement for IPv6, but it does help them in terms of managing the upgrade process and making sure they have performance during the transition from IPv4 to IPv6."

Akamai has measured the performance of Aqua Ion for a handful of beta customers including an e-commerce company that more than doubled the number of customers receiving website response rates of under two seconds.

Aqua Ion is available immediately as an add-on to Akamai's Dynamic Site Accelerator service.

Maira concedes that a small share of Akamai's customers care about IPv6 performance right now, particularly U.S. federal government agencies under a mandate to support IPv6 and high-tech companies.

"Right now, IPv6 represents less than half of 1% of the traffic across our entire network," Maira said. "But we're huge IPv6 proponents. We need this to scale the Internet, and at Akamai we are a company that needs a lot of IP space. So running out of IPv4 space or IPv4 space being dear is not good for Akamai. We want to help our customers get the majority of the Internet IPv6-enabled because it unlocks a ton of possibilities for us."

IPv6 is an upgrade to the Internet's addressing scheme, which was created 40 years ago using a protocol known as IPv4. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and can support a virtually limitless number of devices: 2 to the 128th power. IPv6 is necessary because the Internet is running out of IPv4 addresses. However, IPv6 is not backward compatible with IPv4, requiring network operators to support both protocols at an added cost.

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