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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Beyond Caching:
The User Experience Impact of Accelerating
Rich, Dynamic Content across the Internet

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Table of Contents
Executive Summary ....................................................................................................3
The Critical Nature of Rich Media Elements on Today’s Web Sites ..............................3
Prevailing Rich Media and Dynamic Content Elements ......................................................4
Media Search .........................................................................................................5
User Generated Content...........................................................................................5
RIAs, Interactive Games, Mashups .............................................................................5
The Rich Media Paradox: Potential Consequences for the User Experience ................5
Centralized Infrastructure Exacerbates Performance Issues...............................................6
Why Dynamic, Data-Driven Elements are Inherently Slow .........................................7
BGP Can Slow Internet Traffic ......................................................................................7
TCP: Built for Stability, Not Speed ................................................................................7
HTTP Magnifies TCP Inefficiencies .................................................................................8
Traditional CDNs Fall Short..........................................................................................8
Beyond Caching: How to Accelerate Rich Media Content over the Internet ................8
Unique Routing and Communication Optimization Technologies .........................................9
Dynamic Media Routing for Performance .....................................................................9
Connection Optimization ........................................................................................ 11
Prefetching for Rich Media ...................................................................................... 11
The Overall Advantages of Combining Dynamic Acceleration with a Distributed Caching Service
– A Visual Example .................................................................................................. 12
Summary ..................................................................................................................13
How Performance Correlates to Revenue – It’s the User Experience.................................. 13

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Executive Summary
As the Media and Entertainment industry continues to drive online revenue through advertising
and subscriptions, sites are rapidly adding dynamic, rich and interactive capabilities to grow
online audiences, drive page views, and impress prospective advertisers. But rich interactive
sites and applications, while enhancing user experiences, also increases page weight and
complexity. This in turn leads to sluggish site performance and slower page downloads which
can diminish the number of page views and ad impressions.

Firms around the world have realized the performance benefits available via caching
technologies – such as Akamai EdgeSuite – when it comes to static objects and pages. Yet they
are unable to realize the same benefits for dynamic site elements. That’s because, by its very
nature, dynamic content is harder—and in some cases, impossible—to cache.

To keep pace with Web technologies and how they are being applied to drive online business,
Akamai has evolved its services and developed the Rich Media Accelerator solution. Leveraging
advanced media acceleration technologies, the Rich Media Accelerator solution ensures that all
site elements – both static and dynamic – are delivered quickly and without fail. Many of the
world’s leading online businesses have used Rich Media Accelerator to realize performance gains
upward of 150% globally and more than 100% in the United States. As a result, these firms
have created immersive experiences, greater loyalty, higher site conversions and have
generated more revenue.

The Critical Nature of Rich Media Elements on Today’s Web Sites


Today’s web audience has come to expect highly personal and interactive online experiences and
users will not hesitate to click to another site when their expectations go unmet.

In order to satisfy these expectations, companies are increasingly building sites that deliver an
interactive, engaging experience. Dynamic technologies including XML, PHP, and Web services
are being used to enhance product configurators, reservation systems, shopping carts, store
locators, and real-time product catalogs, to name a few. At the same time, AJAX, Microsoft
Silverlight, Adobe Flash and Flex are increasingly being used to deliver Rich Internet Applications
(RIAs), which enable Web applications to present the type of rich user interface people are
accustomed to on the desktop. All of these enable deeper customer interactions leading to
higher customer satisfaction and loyalty – and greater revenues.

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Pervasiveness / Impact
Capabilities

Completely
Rich User
Experience

Database
Backend

Static

1995 2000 2005


Text & Image Transactional Standards-Driven Web 2.0 +
Static content Online Shopping Dynamic Content RIAs

Personalization AJAX/Flash/Java/.NET
Text Online Banking
UGC
Images Online Applications XML/Web Services
Rich Media

Figure 1. Evolution of Web Sites toward complete, rich, dynamic user experiences

According to Gartner, by 2010, at least 60 percent of the new application development


projects will include RIA technology with up to 25 percent of those relying primarily on
RIAs.1

The days of sites with mainly static, cacheable content are behind us. Today, it’s rare to find a
growing online media property that does not leverage a variety of dynamic elements to satisfy
user expectations, improve the user experience, and boost page views and increase emersion.
The following are common examples of how the rich, dynamic nature of these elements plays an
increasingly vital role in online business.

Prevailing Rich Media and Dynamic Content Elements


The following prevalent examples of RIA and dynamic site features represent the criticality of
dynamic elements for today’s online business.

1
Patricia Seybold Group, Macromedia’s Flash Platform: Bringing Rich Experiences to the Masses, June 16,
2005,
http://www.macromedia.com/platform/whitepapers/psgroup_flashplatform.pdf

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Media Search
• Site, media, and video and audio catalog searches dynamically query origin databases and
return results listings. Advanced filtering and search criteria help improve the customer
experience for finding desired media content.

User Generated Content


• UGC is currently one of the fastest growing forms of content on the Internet and is
fundamentally altering how audiences interact with media properties, and how advertisers
reach those audiences. By 2011, UGC enabled sites are projected to attract 101 million
users in the U.S. and earn $4.3 billion in ad revenue.2

RIAs, Interactive Games, Mashups


• As media properties attempt to extend interaction times and impressions, RIAs, interactive
games, and mashups have become common user engagement techniques. These dynamic
applications, to be effective, must provide an exciting and interactive experience and often
rely on data-driven interfaces and javascript fetched content, such as mapping data.

“Properly deployed rich Internet applications that leverage emerging Web 2.0
technologies, such as Silverlight from Microsoft and Adobe Integrated Runtime from
Adobe, can lead to greater customer satisfaction, enhanced customer value with greater
click-through rates and more sales...”

- Gartner3

The Rich Media Paradox: Potential Consequences for the User


Experience
Unfortunately, the very technologies that enable much of today’s advanced personalization and
interactivity – such as AJAX, PHP, and Web services, to name a few – can significantly contribute
to why dynamic sites often perform poorly. The more these rich internet application technologies
are used, the heavier – and slower – the site becomes. To make matters worse, users are
getting less tolerant of poor site performance.

2
EMarketer, “User Generated Content: Will Web 2.0 Pay its Way?” June 2007
3
Gartner, Inc., Hype Cycle for Retail Technologies, 2008, June 26, 2008

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Good Potential Performance


Quality of User Experience

Degradation Point

Rich Media
Paradox

Poor
Level of Web 2.0 Site Complexity

Figure 2. As sites become more personalized, rich and interactive by


leveraging new Web 2.0 technologies, a negative impact on the overall user
experience can occur if site performance is not maintained.

The reason for these performance problems is that these technologies and applications typically
require repeated back and forth calls to the origin server. These back-and-forth interactions are
themselves subject to the performance and reliability vagaries of the Internet.

For instance, while AJAX reduces the delay in the interaction between the browser and the
display of a page when new data is retrieved from a Web server, an AJAX implementation
suffers from the same issues that afflict traditional Web application implementations using
browsers as their user interface. These issues include performance concerns around scripts
within the Web browser, and latency/bandwidth issues between the browser and server. For
example, AJAX applications require a number of TCP connections to potentially be open at any
one time, and affect server loads and bandwidth requirements due to continuous content
refreshes.

Whether the content is delivered via dynamic AJAX, XML or some other sophisticated design or
programming language, delivery of this dynamic and heavier content and applications places
greater stress on the Web infrastructure and slows performance.

Centralized Infrastructure Exacerbates Performance Issues


Furthermore, most enterprises tend to host their application servers locally, even though their
customer base is distributed nationally or even internationally. Unfortunately, due to Internet
problems outside of the control of a centrally hosted Web site, the consumer may not be able to
access an application or may experience poor performance. These problems tend to be
exacerbated when a large number of consumers attempt to access content and applications
simultaneously.

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Why Dynamic, Data-Driven Elements are Inherently Slow


RIAs and other dynamic, data-driven site content must typically traverse the public Internet to
conduct a lookup on an origin server and return with the appropriate data. This is generally not
a cacheable process, and while this makes the Internet a platform for business, it creates
inherent challenges. The core protocols of the Internet – namely border gateway protocol
(BGP), transmission control protocol (TCP), and hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) – were
developed decades ago and are not ideally suited to meeting performance and business
requirements for today’s dynamic sites. This is a fundamental reason for the paradoxical poor
user experience caused by highly rich and interactive, yet poorly performing sites.

BGP, TCP and HTTP simply weren’t designed with drag and drop-enabled photo sharing,
interactive games, live maps, searches against million-photo databases, and video uploads and
in mind. Yet today’s dynamic features rely on these Internet protocols to traverse the complex
and unpredictable public Internet. Unfortunately, each of these three protocols can negatively
impact the time it takes for content and apps to reach end users.

BGP Can Slow Internet Traffic


The Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) – the core traffic routing protocol used by ISPs – was
designed to ensure that packets get to their destination network regardless of current network
conditions and was designed in a time when commercial use of the Internet was not prevalent.

This issue is exacerbated by the fact that a fair amount of BGP routing prioritization is based on
commercial relationships between ISPs and economic considerations. For example, a network
may want to limit and/or route traffic based on which route is most cost-effective to the network
provider – not which route is the fastest.

TCP: Built for Stability, Not Speed


TCP was built for stability, not speed. TCP’s aptly named “slow-start” feature is designed to
negotiate communication speed between the browser and the server. In general, it takes three
TCP exchanges to set up a TCP connection and four exchanges to tear one down. This is ideal
for sending large files reliably, but not ideal for today’s highly dynamic and frequent exchange of
much smaller data sets found in dynamic site elements, such as mapping applications using
AJAX. Like BGP, TCP was designed in a different era to support an Internet unlike what we see
today.

A typical Web page, containing an HTML body and numerous embedded images objects and
resource calls, uses several separate TCP connections. The result is a large round-trip time
(RTT) multiplier even when there are no network disruptions. As many as 30-50 round-trips can
be required for a single interaction with a Web-enabled application.

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

HTTP Magnifies TCP Inefficiencies


HTTP, the browser’s core protocol, magnifies TCP inefficiencies. Specifically, clients (i.e., Web
browsers) send requests to Web servers over a TCP/IP connection for elements such as Web
pages and images. After the server satisfies the request, the TCP/IP connection is disconnected.
For each new request, a new connection must be established. The first request/response
interaction is for the Web page HTML, and subsequent request/response interaction are for
objects (e.g. images) within the Web page. When the browser has finished loading all elements,
the page will completely load in the browser window.

While browsers pull some static page elements from cache, most dynamic site elements – like
searches, shopping carts, inventory lookups, personalized and rich user interfaces, mapping
applications and more – cannot be cached.

Therefore these data-driven applications typically require multiple roundtrips to the origin. As
the visitor interacts with the Web page or application, the browser communicates with the
appropriate database or application server to retrieve small bits of content that are inserted into
the page. Because dynamic content must be generated in real time by a back-end server, it
takes longer to retrieve and display it.

Traditional CDNs Fall Short


While many of today’s leading businesses rely upon traditional content delivery networks (CDNs)
to help them ensure fast and reliable delivery of their static – and cacheable - Web images and
text, most of these CDNs have not evolved to support rich interactive content. One key factor is
the restricted geographic distribution and size of these networks — this limitation prevents CDNs
from routing traffic efficiently around Internet congestion. Just as important, the majority of
traditional CDNs have not developed the advanced technology needed to accelerate dynamic
elements. Without these capabilities, these CDNs are unable to address the unique business
requirements of transactional and highly interactive Web 2.0 sites.

Beyond Caching: How to Accelerate Rich Media Content over the


Internet
The Akamai EdgeSuite service was originally developed to ensure the speedy and reliable
delivery of static content, which can be cached and is ideally suited for storage and delivery
from Akamai’s massive EdgePlatform network of more than 34,000 servers in thousands of
networks located in over 70 countries.

Because dynamic content must traverse the Internet, delivering an experience that is fast
enough to keep today’s user satisfied can only be accomplished with a unique view of Internet
traffic. Advanced technologies must be used to understand the optimal routes across the

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Internet, to take advantage of those optimal routes, and to expedite data communications
across the Internet’s protocols.

Whereas Akamai’s EdgeSuite Delivery solution addressed performance and reliability issues
associated with static sites, Akamai’s Rich Media Accelerator goes beyond this by addressing the
unique challenges associated with delivering both static and dynamic elements and applications
at the core of today’s online business experience.

"When the core protocols of the Internet were created more


than 30 years ago no one could have reasonably imagined the
role they would play in today's world, and they certainly
weren't designed to meet modern requirements. Over the last
decade Akamai has done a remarkable job of finding innovative
means of adding capabilities on top of the Internet that make
up for the deficiencies of the original protocols.”
- Peter Christy, Principal Analyst of Internet Research
Group4

Unique Routing and Communication Optimization Technologies


The EdgePlatform provides the insight into Internet traffic patterns and is the acceleration
platform for three critical technologies used to carry site content requests from the customer’s
browser to the company’s origin data center and back - in an instant.

These three RMA technologies compensate for the inadequacies of BGP, TCP and HTTP protocol
and effectively create a new Internet platform for today’s dynamic online businesses.

• Dynamic Media Routing for Performance

• Transport Protocol Optimization

• Prefetching

Dynamic Media Routing for Performance


Akamai Dynamic Media Routing is designed to remove the inefficiencies of BGP by leveraging
Akamai’s platform and proprietary algorithms to provide a real-time “weather” map of the
Internet in order to make performance-based routing decisions. The Akamai EdgePlatform
consists of a bi-nodal overlay network comprising specialized servers (or “Edge servers”). These
Edge servers are highly distributed, with locations in very close proximity to end users as well as
near the origin infrastructure. In fact, 85% of the world’s Internet users are within a single
network hop of an Akamai Edge server.

4
(source: http://www.akamai.com/html/about/press/releases/2007/press_121007.html)

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

At any given time, for each independent user, Dynamic Media Routing determines a high-
performing and available path to communicate between two Akamai Edge servers. As shown in
the figure below, Dynamic Media Routing identifies alternate paths over which an Akamai Edge
server can communicate with a customer’s origin server. It then uses these alternatives to
either improve the performance of the connection, or to provide for failover in the event that a
direct path is congested or otherwise unavailable.

Figure 4. Overview of Interactions Using Dynamic Media Routing

Inside the Akamai network, proprietary techniques are used to accelerate the content delivery
and avoid Internet congestion points and unnecessarily long routes. An optimal path between
the origin site and Edge server is selected based on real-time performance measurements of
HTTP downloads, latency, and loss frequency collected by Akamai. Based on this data, the path
may be direct (as recommended by BGP), or indirect through an intermediary Akamai Edge
server.

Figure 5. Dynamic Media Routing finds faster and more reliable paths across the Internet
greater than 95% of the time as witnessed from a Route Optimization report available to
RMA customers

Dynamic Media Routing is beneficial in two ways:

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

- Optimizes RTT instead of next-hop routing decisions made by BGP. This is increasingly
important for those applications where the RTT multiplier is small such as for Web service
calls and AJAX-enabled applications and creates a key accelerator for all other database
driven dynamic transactions
- Optimizes application availability of the Internet itself by ensuring end-user requests can
reach the application server regardless of Internet bottlenecks such as service provider
blackouts, brownouts, de-peering, network outages, earthquakes, etc.

Optimized routing decisions are updated in real time with Dynamic Media Routing as Internet
conditions constantly change. Any communications across the bi-nodal network of two Akamai
Edge servers take place over an optimized Dynamic Media Routing path to ensure optimal RTT
for every round-trip taken over the Internet.

As a result, fully dynamic and transactional content is delivered more quickly and reliably to end
users, even when it is uncacheable.

Connection Optimization
RMA optimizes the TCP protocol in a number of ways, beginning by eliminating the need for the
“slow-start” three-way handshake between TCP, HTTP, and the origin server for connection
establishment and teardown. RMA’s TCP Optimization feature establishes a set of long-lived
persistent communication connections between the origin and Akamai Edge servers. These
connections are available on demand for handling multiple browser or machine requests.
Leveraging the persistent connections and intelligence between Edge servers and the origin
server’s data center, Akamai employs pipelining that allows multiple HTTP requests to be
multiplexed over a single connection without waiting for a response, effectively aggregating
communications. Additionally, connection window sizes can be increased from 64KB to a 2MB
maximum for greater data throughput.
For AJAX-intensive Rich Internet Application, compression of large initial logic downloads and the
aggregation of HTTP requests over a persistent TCP connection dramatically improves RIA
responsiveness.

Edge servers maintain detailed knowledge of information such as latency between machines,
transmission window sizes and packet sequencing information and thus provide a more
intelligent retransmit methodology than the TCP timeout parameter.

Prefetching for Rich Media


By leveraging a Prefetching for Rich Media capability designed to reduce the number of long-haul
round trips requires to retrieve embedded content, Akamai is able to further minimize the
amount of HTTP processing time it takes a browser/client to load and display a Web page,
including the embedded objects.

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

For dynamic application content, Akamai’s Edge servers can act as a proxy for the request and
response. When the Edge server delivers the base page request to the browser, it
simultaneously recursively parses the HTML base page, predicting and issuing subsequent
requests to the origin. All of the content is then transferred back as a single transaction to Edge
server using the proprietary Akamai protocol. When the browser receives the base page and
then requests the remaining elements of the page, they are already waiting at the Edge server
and are delivered as if the origin server were only a few milliseconds away. Data is compressed
en route, reducing bandwidth usage. At the same time, any cacheable content is stored at the
Edge server close to end users and served from cache.

The Overall Advantages of Combining Dynamic Acceleration with a


Distributed Caching Service – A Visual Example
RMA combines Dynamic Media Routing, Connection Optimization and Prefetching for Rich Media
with the key caching properties of the EdgePlatform to help enterprises can ensure that all
content – static and dynamic elements and applications – perform at superior levels for users
around the world. The Akamai test results below show that enterprises realize increasing levels
of benefit of the entire dynamic site experience.

In this example, the origin is able to serve all content for a dynamically loaded page in 7
seconds. When object caching is applied, the same page downloads in 5 seconds – a 40%
improvement over the origin server’s performance. When whole-site caching (that is, caching of
both static HTML and images) is added, the same page downloads in 4.5 seconds – a 56%
improvement over the origin server’s performance and an 11% improvement over object
caching.

Finally, Akamai’s RMA solution is used to deliver the page and acceleration the origin round trips
for dynamic content. With this solution layered onto whole-site caching, the dynamically loaded
page displays in a mere 2.5 seconds. That’s a 180% performance improvement over origin, a
100% improvement over object caching, and an 80% improvement over whole-site caching
(such as via Akamai EdgeSuite Delivery).

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

Figure 6. Akamai’s path and connection optimization techniques work together to significantly
boost performance

Summary
How Performance Correlates to Revenue – It’s the User Experience
The evolution toward rich, dynamic sites and the wave of Rich Internet Applications is, in
essence, about giving users the ability to interact with web based data in an exciting, user-
friendly and intuitive manner. When users stay engaged, they stay longer and go deeper into
the media site, directly resulting in ad impressions.

The next milestone for world-class online organizations is to tackle both challenges at the same
time; creating extremely compelling, rich and dynamic online experiences with lighting-fast
responsiveness. Below are two RMA customers who have solved these challenges and in turn,
kept customers engaged longer, led them deeper into the site and turned visitors into more
revenue.

MetaCafe implemented a combination of Akamai's media delivery and rich media site
acceleration solutions to optimize the delivery of rich, heavy web pages, videos and
dynamic content, in turn creating a 30 percent improvement in video start time. This
improvement has contributed to significant growth in both page views and video views
on Metacafe, up 44 and 53 percent respectively between January and July 2008.

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To maintain and grow its audience in the highly competitive video entertainment sector,
Metacafe targets sub-second for page load times and under a half a second for videos to
load.
“In our business, it's critical that we deliver a truly on-demand
entertainment experience - when someone wants to watch a
video, we want to be sure they can start watching right away
and without interruption," said Yaron Finkel, vice president of
research and development at Metacafe. "Akamai helps us deliver
on this promise. Keeping viewers on our site to watch multiple
short videos in one session is an important part of building our
business - the more videos we serve, the more ads we serve,
which is good for our content partners, advertisers and bottom
line."

HT Media relies on RMA to deliver a four-fold increase in Web traffic from search-
related page views and drive an overall 33% increase in page views.
“"Site performance and availability are critical for any online
media company to building a loyal audience who will return
again and again. Post-Akamai, story pages, the home page, and
multimedia are delivered dramatically faster, allowing users to
quickly access Livemint content. We have been able to support
an 88% increase in Web traffic and a four-fold increase in Web
traffic from search-related page views-without investing in
additional infrastructure," explains Rashmi Chugh, Head Internet
for HT Media Limited. "Our move toward a more dynamic site
presented very different challenges for us and Akamai helped us
solve those. Akamai's optimization and advanced content
distribution technology allows users to quickly access Livemint
from wherever they might be. This, in turn, has allowed us to
reach online audiences regardless of geographical boundaries."

Inefficiencies of the public Internet will not simply improve overtime, yet the evolution toward
completely dynamic and immersive customer experiences continues unabated. Therefore
maintaining high performance of Rich Internet Applications and dynamic site elements is the key
to an engaging customer experience and translates into revenue for world-class online media
properties.

Akamai has evolved its services to keep pace with the evolution of Web sites and technologies.
While the Akamai EdgeSuite solution has provided the foundation for successful online initiatives
of leading brands to date, the Rich Media Accelerator solution adds the advanced dynamic
acceleration technologies needed for today’s Internet business.

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The Performance Impact of Accelerating Dynamic Site Elements across the Internet

About Akamai
Akamai® is the leading global service provider for accelerating content and business processes
online. More than 1,900 organizations have formed trusted relationships with Akamai, improving
their revenue and reducing costs by maximizing the performance of their online businesses.
Leveraging the Akamai EdgePlatform, these organizations gain business advantage today, and
have the foundation for the emerging Web solutions of tomorrow. Akamai is "The Trusted Choice
for Online Business." For more information, visit www.akamai.com.

Copyright © 2008 by Akamai Technologies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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