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Speeding Up the Internet: Algorithms Guru and Akamai Founder Tom Leighton (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Oct 17th 2007

Tom Leighton, co-founder of Akamai, is the Chief Scientist and a member of the Board of Director at Akamai. You can read more about him by visiting his bio here. Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM) is the leading content delivery network (CDN) provider which, among other things, allows content providers to accelerate the delivery of Internet content and applications. In the past, I have addressed how Akamai stands to benefit from the online video surge, as well as how the actions of the Telco’s cost reduction could potentially impact Akamai. Here I talk with Tom about these issues, and more.

SM: Tom, I would like to start the conversation with some questions about your background.

TL: I grew up in Arlington, Virginia. I attended public schools there and then went to college at Princeton. I came to MIT for graduate school and got my PhD, after which I did a Post Doc here and stayed on as a professor of mathematics.

SM: Your field of research is primarily algorithms, correct?

TL: That is correct. I was interested in algorithms used on large-scale networks, and my core field of research was graph theory as applied to network optimization algorithms.

SM: Take us back to the beginnings of Akamai. What was going on in the industry, and what was going on in your research group?

TL: I was running the algorithms group back in 1995, and Tim Berners-Lee was running the web consortium. Tim was interested in issues with the Internet and the web, and he foresaw there would be problems with congestion. Hot spots, flash crowds, … and that the centralized model of distributing content would be facing challenges. He was right. There were considerable challenges and it was simply not going to scale. He presented an ideal problem for me and my group to work on.

We started researching in 1995, and in 1996 Danny Lewin came to our graduate school and became my advisee. We worked on developing algorithms and programs for distributing content on large scale networks and doing that efficiently. In 1997 we entered the MIT 50K Competition. That is a student run business competition at MIT. Through the course of that year we were exposed to businesses, potential customers, content providers, and VCs … people who were interested in backing companies with good technology. We never thought about creating a company. To us this was purely an academic effort.

[SM: Daniel Lewin was the other co-founder and original CTO of Akamai. He was on one of the American Airlines flights that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and was killed at the age of 31.]

This segment is part 1 in the series : Speeding Up the Internet: Algorithms Guru and Akamai Founder Tom Leighton
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