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akamai vs limelight

i recently had occasion to weigh in on a content delivery selection where we compared Limelight and Akamai.

The client I was with had a fairly major Akamai commitment for software downloads, very simple, referral secured HTTP and anonymous ftp, no problem. Furthermore we were in a cost reduction cycle and Akamai service was expensive, the term of the agreement was lengthy and the  current contracts called for an auto-renewal of term. The agreement was based on a 95/5 model which was fairly standard with per GB costs for storage and overages on the 95/5,  typical from what I came to hear.

Needless to say this was a significant expense, was poorly managed and understood (by the client) and the opportunity to renegotiate was at hand. I had heard good things about Limelight and engaged them. I was asked by the salesman what i needed and i said simple, software downloads, we do it with Akamai can you (the way Akamai does), and at what price? I was asked what commit levels, lets say it was 250GB of storage and 300+ Mb/s 95/5. Needless to say there was interest. A number came back, significantly lower than where we were at and it sounded good!  We had some due diligence meetings, we discussed our needs (to replace akamai software downloads using secured referrals and anonymous ftp, limelight sales and se, “no problem”). Limelight discussed their “commodity architecture, simple, not proprietary, midgress charge exemptions, etc” and data-center expansion plans for global reach, all sounded good, oh yeah and they said we’ll do a couple months no charge. Well at a fraction of akamai this sounded really good.

 In the interest of continuity we went to Akamai and said, hey we’re hearing some good things about your competition and the numbers sound good. I asked for a quote pointing out this was competitive. Unfortunately I didn’t get a quote, rather a desire to review usage, etc., ultimately we got a quote in Terabytes Delivered (another way of quoting CDN). Well needless to say this was not what i had expected and it did not sit well with our team that we had a vendor who wanted our business and dropped their pants for it and here our existing vendor wasn’t willing to negotiate or at least backup the value proposition of their service.

Long story short, we selected Limelight, that’s when things got interesting. First there was an expectation for delivery, we mistakenly did not have a clear statement of work. I expected delivery Day 1 of month, however what was committed was no charge terms  for Bandwidth month of X (so turn up end of month, which is kind of what happened, meant nada). Well i had a deadline to cut-over from Akamai in a month and we needed to make it happen. Turned out rsync  was a major ordeal (they only do it for dedicated servers) and low and behold they did not do anonymous ftp except through custom services ! The Limelight sales rep said they never made the commitment and essentially called me and the internet architect liars.  It took a month to address this and we were out of time. This was not good. We met with senior mgmt. sales, etc and it was expressed they really wanted to deliver. In the interest of expense we worked hard to get things to work, limelight tried but ultimatley failed, at least from my perspective. I have to say technically Limelight was the worst technical support experience I ever had in 25 years, I describe it as follows, it was like i asked do you speak English and they said “we speak Spanish”. These guys talked about DNS but didn’t know the  difference between a CNAME, an A or PTR record. I asked PS engineer, and I quote, “have you set up dns”, answer “yeah”, I ask what version, they said “Microsoft.” they dind’t know what named or bind was. End of the day it was not enough.

To their credit, Akamai (not knowing the situation) sensing a hard sell, extended our contract month to month at a reduced rate (our budget) with the expectation of a firm decision would be had in a couple months. In the mean time we attempted to amicably cancel with Limelight. I contended that due to customer sat (amongst other things) we should be excused, Limelight pointed out a contract was a contract (way to build loyalty guys). Well this short story is getting long, needless to say the support was so bad, Akamai eventually turned around, the Akamai self provisioning systems was clearly explained (alone an exceptional value proposition) and under the circumstances I recommended we cancel the contract even if we had to buy it out. Management wasn’t happy, money is money after all.  Well we did cancel at a cost. Akamai stepped up to the plate. Helped us by absorbing some of our financial impact and clearly demonstrated technical competence **way** beyond their so called competitor (my language example, “Speak English?”, Akamai response “what dialect, American, Canadian, English, Australian, Indian, etc.”).  Akamai DID come back with albeit premium pricing however not so much so to disqualify them as a vendor. And again, not to over emphasize, if simple is what your are looking for then i recommend you think in terms of how simple it is to communciate with a professional services team and interact with tools you can use yourself to get the job done. Akamai Professional Services and Technical Support WAY out did Limelight, Akamai Sales gets the award for being there when we needed them the most.

Shame on Limelight and Kudos to Akamai.

My only disappointment with Akamai was they didn’t know us,  their customer, well enough to have dismissed their competitor as an HTTP only solution with rookie skills so I didn’t have the ordeal of working with them. Our needs were met with Akamai and no effort in the near term can I see were we going to be satisfied by their competition. Akamai should have concentrated on this as a value proposition, furthermore their extremely advanced self provisioning is worth every penny compared to dealing with the subpar support at Limelight.

I learned a few lessons, have a clear statement of work,  give your current vendors a chance, beat them up if they aren’t responding, and last but not least you get what you pay for…..

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