Sunday, September 04, 2011

The story of Akamai and the loss of its founder

An inspired but heart wrenching story of one entrepreneur's vision after he was killed in the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center (

On Sept. 11, 2001, in Akamai’s control room, engineers and technicians worked furiously to direct the crush of Web traffic to every spare server. There was no time to grieve. But then and in the decade since, the thoughts of Akamai employees rarely strayed from Lewin and his technology, and what both had made possible.
“The end result is that you and I, without knowing Akamai is involved, get to see our content, and we get it fast, and it comes through clear,’’ said Brian Partridge, vice president of research at the research firm Yankee Group in Boston. “Akamai has had a behind-the-scenes role in the incredible development of the Internet.’’
In 1996, when Daniel Lewin, a former Israeli commando with a bachelor’s degree from Technion, Israel’s famed scientific university, began his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, computer scientists already knew the Internet would do a lousy job of managing big spikes in traffic. Companies could prepare only by buying vast numbers of extra servers that would be idle most of the time, a big waste of money.
Lewin was already hungry for a challenge like that. “Danny had the kind of mind that comes and says, ‘Well, this is a big problem. Why shouldn’t there be a solution?’ ’’ recalled his MIT professor and Akamai cofounder, Tom Leighton. “And sure enough, he figured out a solution.’’
The Internet needed a better way to instantly locate vast amounts of quickly changing data stored on computers all over the world, and send it to anybody, anywhere. What Lewin and Leighton invented was a mathematical scheme called “consistent hashing’’ that radically sped up the process. Just as important, the system could “scale’’- meaning it would work even as many more people used it. It made possible the advanced Internet services we use today.
Lewin’s innovation allows millions of users to watch streaming video simultaneously, for example, and keeps news websites online during global crises as viewers rush for the latest information.
I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

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