Akamai Co-Founder Dr. Tom Leighton Wins 2018 Marconi Prize

Pioneered content delivery network services industry

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#Akamai–Dr. Frank Thomson “Tom” Leighton, who developed the algorithms now used
to deliver trillions of content requests over the Internet every day,
has been selected to receive the 2018 Marconi Prize. The award will be
given at The Marconi Society’s annual Awards Dinner in Bologna, Italy,
on October 2.

The Marconi Society, dedicated to furthering scientific achievements in
communications and the Internet, is honoring Leighton for his
fundamental contributions to technology and the establishment of the
content delivery network (CDN) industry.

Dr. Leighton is the co-founder of Akamai Technologies, Inc., the world’s
largest and most trusted cloud delivery platform. The company routes and
replicates content over a gigantic network of distributed servers, using
algorithms to find and utilize servers closest to the end user, thereby
avoiding congestion at the center of the Internet. This cost-effectively
scales the Internet by ensuring that content—whether it is a bank
transaction that should be seen only by the account holder, or a live
sporting event streamed to millions of viewers worldwide—reaches the end
user quickly, reliably and securely.

“Dr. Leighton is the embodiment of what the Marconi Prize honors,” says
Vint Cerf, Marconi Society Chairman and Chief Internet Evangelist at
Google. “He and his research partner, Danny Lewin, tackled one of the
major problems limiting the power of the Internet, and when they
developed the solution, they founded Akamai—now one of the premier
technology companies in the world—to bring it to market. This story is
truly remarkable.”

Dr. Leighton likes to say that Akamai’s role within the Internet
revolution was to end the “World Wide Wait.” And, he is the first to
share the company’s success with co-founder Danny Lewin. The roots of
their triumph lay in a challenge posed in 1995 by World Wide Web founder
and 2002 Marconi Fellow Tim
. Berners-Lee foresaw an Internet congestion issue and
challenged colleagues at MIT to invent a fundamentally new and better
way to deliver content. At the time, Leighton was a professor in MIT’s
Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) where he headed the Theoretical
Computer Science group, working with some of the brightest minds in the
field. The brightest of these—a self-professed “math geek”—was Danny
Lewin. Leighton and Lewin set out to solve the problem posed by
Berners-Lee using distributed computing algorithms.

After two years of intense research, Leighton and Lewin discovered a
remarkable approach to solving the congestion problem on the
Internet—but then faced the challenge of convincing others that it would
really work. In 1997, they entered the $50K Entrepreneurship
Competition, a business plan contest run by the MIT Sloan School. “We
literally went to the library and got the equivalent of Business
Plans for Dummies
because, as theoretical mathematicians, we had
no experience in business,” Leighton remembers. But they learned quickly
from those who did, including business professionals they met through
the $50K Competition.

At the time, Leighton and Lewin didn’t envision building their own
company around the technology. Instead, they planned to license it to
service providers. However, they found that carriers needed to be
convinced that the technology would work at scale before they were
interested. “Akamai was state-of-the-art in theory, meaning that it was
well beyond where people were in practice. I think folks were very
skeptical that it would work,” said Leighton.

While carriers were ambivalent, content providers were looking for
scalable content delivery. Several recent events had shown how
vulnerable the Internet could be to congestion, bringing down websites
when traffic jammed in bottlenecks during high demand periods. And so,
Leighton and Lewin decided to build their own content delivery network
and provide content delivery as a service. Although their business plan
did not win the $50K contest, it attracted enough venture capital
investment to get a company started, and Leighton and Lewin incorporated
Akamai in August of 1998.

Akamai’s first big opportunity came in 1999 with the U.S. collegiate
basketball tournament known as ‘March Madness.’ With 64 teams playing
basketball during the course of a few days, millions of viewers were
watching their favorite teams online, mostly from work. When ESPN and
their hosting company Infoseek became overloaded with traffic, they
asked if Akamai could handle 2,000 content requests per second, Leighton
and his team said yes – even though they were only delivering one
request every few minutes at the time. “We were a startup and we
believed,” said Leighton. Akamai took the traffic, delivering 3,000
requests per second and helping ESPN to get back on line and run six
times faster than they would on a normal traffic day. Akamai’s
technology and viability were proven.

Akamai’s growth was explosive. The company went public in 1999 making
millionaires of several of its young employees. But there were hard
times to come. When the tech bubble began its implosion in 2000, the
stock plummeted and the firm faced the prospect of retrenchment. Then,
Akamai’s darkest day came on September 11, 2001. Danny
was killed aboard American Airlines flight 11 in the terrorist
attack on the Twin Towers, a devastating loss. Yet Akamai employees had
to set aside their personal grief and complete emergency integrations to
restore client sites that had crashed in the overwhelming online traffic
created that day.

Akamai rebounded from the tragedy, and continues to thrive, accelerating
trillions of Internet requests each day, while protecting web and mobile
assets from targeted application and DDoS attacks.

Leveraging the pervasiveness and resilience of its global platform,
Leighton and his team at Akamai expanded their innovative offerings to
help enable Internet users to have a seamless and secure experience
across different device types and network conditions, however they
connect. They created new technology for leveraging machine learning to
analyze real-user behavior to continuously optimize a website’s
performance, as well as algorithms that differentiate between human
users and bots.

As the threat landscape continued to rapidly evolve, security became
critical for safeguarding business online and Akamai’s security business
surpassed half a billion dollars per year in revenue, making it the
fastest growing part of Akamai’s business.

“Going from a clever set of algorithmic ideas to the world’s largest
distributed computing platform and a hugely successful company involved
a truly amazing combination of skills and vision,” says Dr. Jennifer
Rexford, Chair of Princeton’s Department of Computer Science. “Tom has
been responsible for Akamai’s technology vision for going on twenty
years, through a period of tremendous growth (of both Akamai’s
infrastructure and the Internet as a whole), technological advances, new
applications, and diverse threats. Today, Akamai has over 240,000
servers in over 130 countries and within more than 1,700 networks around
the world and handles roughly 20-30% of the traffic on the Internet.
Over time, Akamai evolved far beyond static image content to dynamic
content and real-time applications like streaming video. And, as
cyberattacks become more prevalent, Akamai plays an important role in
defending content owners and end users alike against a wide range of
adversaries. Tom played an important leadership role at the national
level, including his influential service on the President’s Information
Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), chairing the PITAC Subcommittee
on Cybersecurity, and testifying before Congress on topics ranging from
cybersecurity to computer science research.”

“Tom is truly unique,” says Ion Stoica, a Professor in the EECS
Department at University of California at Berkeley and the Director of
the Real-time Intelligent Secure Execution Laboratory (RISE Lab). “He is
the only person I can think of that has reached the pinnacle in both
academia and industry. He is not only one of the very top computer
scientists in the world, but also one of the top entrepreneurs and CEOs
in the world. Tom has no peers when it comes to bridging theory and
practice, and his work has revolutionized the way we consume the
information over the Internet today.”

By receiving the Marconi Prize, Leighton joins a distinguished
list of scientists
whose work underlies all of modern communication
technology, from the microprocessor to the Internet, and from optical
fiber to the latest wireless breakthroughs.

“Being recognized by the Marconi Society is an incredible honor,” said
Leighton. “It’s an honor not just for me, but also for Danny Lewin, who
created this company with me, and for all of the people at Akamai who
have worked so hard for over two decades to make this technology real so
that the Internet can scale to be a secure and affordable platform where
entertainment, business, and life are enabled to reach unimagined

Dr. Leighton will donate the $100,000 Marconi Prize to The
Akamai Foundation
, with the goal of promoting the pursuit of
excellence in mathematics in grades K-12 to encourage the next
generation of technology innovators.

About the Marconi Society

Established in 1974 by the daughter of Guglielmo Marconi, the Nobel
Laureate who invented radio, the Marconi Society promotes awareness of
key technology and policy issues in telecommunications and the Internet
and recognizes significant individual achievements through the Marconi
Prize and Young Scholar Awards. More information may be found at www.marconisociety.orgSubscribe.
Follow: LinkedIn,
and Facebook


Marconi Society
Hatti Hamlin, 925-872-4328
Reinman, 415-254-2004