Akamai CEO Tom Leighton on edge computing, cloud, security

If you asked CEO Tom Leighton to describe Akamai Technologies five years ago, his answer would be different than his answer today.

Today he describes the company as the “most distributed cloud service provider in the world” with services in computing, security and delivery. The company, which has been evolving since its inception as a content delivery network (CDN) provider, hit a key milestone in that journey last quarter.

Proceeds from Akamai’s security and computing business combined to overshadow its delivery revenue for the first time. Security revenue rose 23% year-over-year to $ 382 million, and computer revenue reached $ 78 million, up 32%. Delivery revenue, meanwhile, fell 6% to $ 444 million.

“Next year, security will be the biggest of the three,” Leighton said in an interview with Protocol.

“It won’t be the majority by itself yet, but it will be bigger than delivery and computing. It depends on how fast computing grows, but that’s a huge market, and who knows, computing may be the biggest in five years. It will be a difficult battle with security for that crown, as these are both very fast growing areas for Akamai. “

Akamai has strengthened its security and computing capabilities with two major acquisitions in the last eight months. It bought an online security company Guardicore for $ 600 million in October, adding its micro-segment technology that blocks the spread of malware to Akamai’s zero-trust security portfolio for businesses. In March, Akamai completed its $ 900 million acquisition of Linodea provider of cloud infrastructure as a service that positions itself as an alternative to AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

Leighton, who has led Akamai since 2013 after co-founding the company in 1998 and serving as its lead scientist, spoke to Protocol on Akamai’s cloud-to-edge strategy.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Why did you decide to diversify Akamai?

It’s what customers want, and it’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We started with delivery. Early on, we provided security solutions for the government, but the industry was not yet ready for it, not fully appreciating it. It wasn’t until 2012 that companies needed Akamai to protect them, that they simply couldn’t do it themselves.

Also, early on – 2000, 2001 time frame – we started edge computing and, again, we were ahead of the industry. That’s before AWS existed, and the industry wasn’t ready for edge computing then. We even had a Java edge. We had a WebSphere edge, Edge Side Includes. We started the standard with Oracle in 2001.

We did some basic stuff that our customers could use, but in terms of full applications on the edge, it was too early. It has recently become popular. Indeed, for 20 years the industry – our competitors – has said that edge was stupid. And all of a sudden they woke up and said, “Oh, the edge is really the future,” and then they claim to have an edge that they don’t have. Now, fast forward, we have thousands of customers using our state-of-the-art computing capabilities today.

And now with the acquisition of Linode, we will have core cloud computing capabilities. This is the last big piece, in a sense, because now our customers can build their apps on Akamai, they can run them on Akamai, they can secure them with us and they can deliver, of course, with Akamai.

Akamai CEO Tom Leighton
Akamai CEO Tom Leighton

Photo: Akamai

What are Akamai’s security forces and how does Guardicore fit into your strategy?

We have been safe for a long time. I don’t know that most of the world has noticed this, but we have been providing security services to protect U.S. government websites since probably 2001. We really started protecting major banks in 2012, 2013. And today we have the marketable online app. firewall solution [Web App and API Protector (WAAP), formerly known as Kona Site Defender] ege. Almost all major banks and commercial companies use our security services. We have the best denial-of-service prevention capabilities, the best protection for end-user accounts so that they are not stolen. This is really important for bank accounts or business accounts, but, increasingly, media accounts – your video game accounts or your OTT [over the top] accounts are big goals.

What Guardicore does is that [it] protects businesses from ransomware, and ransomware is the main problem today for businesses. It is crushing, and Guardicore identifies applications when they have been hit by ransomware, and then prevents it from spreading. And that is the key to stopping ransomware damage.

Typically segmentation had some sort of bad name in the industry because it was done in hardware, which made it really difficult and not very efficient. You’ve physically separated your networks, and that’s really painful in a business, so most businesses haven’t done that. But Guardicore has invented a way to do it in software where they put an agent or think of it as a mini firewall in every application. That agent tells you when an application is doing something it shouldn’t be doing or is being exploited in some way. It can also tell if it has vulnerabilities like Log4j, and then it notifies the IT store or the security store that “you have a problem here.” Even better, it prevents the problem from spreading. It does not let the malware jump from HVAC unit to critical operating system. And so you limit the range of ransomware. You limit the exposure to data filtering.

We view it as the cornerstone of a zero-confidence strategy for a business. The problem today is that you could buy security services from everyone, and malware is still likely to get in somewhere. The key is to really know when it came in, where it came in and prevent it from spreading.

Why do businesses use Linode over AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud or in addition to them under a multi-cloud strategy?

Basically, it’s the same reason that so many businesses use us for delivery instead of AWS and Google and the other hyperscalers, and the same reason why they use us for security instead of those giant companies. In fact, those giant companies are using us for delivery and security today. We have edge computing, and we’re the best at it. Edge computer lives in 4,000 places on Akamai, close to 1,000 cities around the world. Major companies, including those hyperscales, use us for that.

For the core cloud computing, it is really easy to use Linode, very popular with developers and it is less expensive. Now what we need to do – and will do over the next year or so – is make sure Linode has the capabilities and functions that major businesses need. Today they have some great clients, but mostly small and medium sized businesses and developers, and so there are some things we need to do there that will make it a business grade. When you put it in conjunction with our edge platform that has edge computing – and, of course, our market-leading delivery and security – you get a really exciting combination.

There is plenty of room for growth in cloud computing for the workload. We know all the major companies or many of the major companies. They know us, and they use us for delivery and security. Many of them asked us to develop computer skills. And a lot of those companies are competing with the hyperscales, and they’d like to have Akamai that ability because we don’t compete with them. We are not a threat to them. We are not a threat to look at their data. Of course, the fact that it’s really easy to use and less expensive, I think that’s helpful as well. It’s about a third [competitors’] published prices.

I expect that on the way the hyperscales will also use our computer solution as part of the overall Akamai platform. Some of the hyperscalers [parent companies Amazon and Microsoft] are our biggest customers, and some are also really good partners. It only expands the skills they can do on Akamai. I expect that they will have applications that they will want to run on containers or VMs in hundreds of locations close to end users, and Akamai will have that capability. We are quite unique in that.

What products or services do you need to add to attract businesses? Will you offer managed services in the future?

There are certain basic skills that we are in the process of adding – VPC, trust zones, making it PCI compliant, FedRAMP compliant, such a thing – just kind of basic. Linode has a good ecosystem of apes above [that are] not managed today. And so for those customers who want to have managed third-party programs on Linode and not do it themselves, yes, we would offer that capability over time or together with partners who would do the management of the services for them.

What cutting-edge computer products and services do you have today and what industries use them?

There are various things we do. We have a JavaScript engine that works on all of our edge servers, and customers can use that to create features as a service. We also create packaged features, we call them Cloudlets. In some cases, our customers created those, and then we offer them to other customers. So things you’d like to do with a website or app, A / B testing, failed skills, personalized content. And there’s a special class of skills we call Edge Side Includes that we launched in 2001 that allows our customers to program their page so that it’s dynamically put together on the edge. We have thousands of customers using this today for almost 20 years.

Delivery is still your biggest business, but growth is slowing. What drives this, and do you expect it to retreat to pre-COVID levels?

The traffic is growing, [just] not so fast. We’re in a year where there’s a non-COVID year pleasing over a COVID year, and so people are more out, they’re actually coming back and making purchases in stores more, so there’s less traffic growth. I don’t think this year is going to be a strong year in terms of delivery business revenue. Next year you will return to a more normal situation where you have a non-COVID year while a non-COVID year, and so you have more normal dynamics then.

The main verticals for delivery are a kind of two components. There are the big traffic verticals that would be OTT and media: software, gaming downloads. Then there are the transaction verticals, which do not have much traffic, but have a high value for the traffic they have, and that would be guided by trade, retail, hospitality and so on. They’re all growing traffic, but not nearly at the rates they were.

This story has been updated to correct some transcription errors.

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