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Akamai CEO Swings His Elbows

Leading-Edge Firm Uses Linux to Distribute Data Around the World

  • January 11, 2000
  • By Gavin McCormick
It's not that you wouldn't want to meet George Conrades, the chairman and CEO of Akamai Technologies Inc., in a dark alley. It's more that you'd want to avoid him in an open playing field.

Conrades, a trim, sharp-featured man who since joining Akamai (Nasdaq: AKAM) last April has guided the Cambridge Internet infrastructure firm to stunning market success, came off as both affable and plain-speaking during an address Monday night to a packed dinner crowd of about 100 at the Harvard Faculty Club, an event sponsored by the Massachusetts Interactive Media Council.

His directness stood out in an Internet culture filled with techno-jargon and business cliches. His energy and focus seemed remarkable even in a world filled with monomaniacs who survive on four hours of sleep a night. And, underneath his geniality, his competitiveness seemed almost fearsome.

"The big business challenge today is that everything happens in turbo time," said Conrades. "If you're not exhausted, you're not in the game. This is hockey, not golf. If you don't feel like you're getting slammed into the boards, you're not on the ice."

Clearly Conrades is a man exhilarated by a solid body check.

Among his words of advice: attack your competitors where they're strongest, as Microsoft did with Netscape or as Dell did with Compaq Computers. When a questioner who said he was taking his company public in a year asked for counsel, Conrades didn't let him finish the question: "Cut it in half. Work your ass off and go out in six months. Go as fast as you can and suck the oxygen from your competitors."

Akamai (AH-kuh-my; the name is Hawaiian for "clever" or "cool") has been taking in oxygen at a furious rate since it burst onto the Internet scene a year ago. The company's game is simple: delivering the content of Net companies, everything from text to streaming video, more quickly and reliably.

To do the job, the company has over 2,000 Linux-based servers set up across more than 100 telecommunications networks in 50 countries across the globe. Akamai can map the status of the Net within seconds at any given time, almost instantly determining the quickest route to deliver data from content provider to user.

For companies that pride themselves on Internet speed, like Yahoo, it cuts delivery time in half; for many customers, especially those with "rich" content that takes time to download, it can slash delivery time by a factor of 10 or more.

Despite the technological and economic transformations the Net has engendered, Conrades said some fundamental truths haven't altered since he started working for IBM in the 1960s, working to build the first transistorized computer.

"Cheaper, better, faster," he said. "Underneath it all, the same rules apply. We were trying to replace mechanical accounting machines with something cheaper, better and faster back then, and that's what Akamai's doing with Internet content delivery today. Those rules apply whether it's the agricultural, industrial or information revolution."

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