May 13, 2010, 2:03 PM

Content delivery network Limelight bids for more e-commerce business

With its latest release, Limelight adds features designed to serve the complex needs of online retailers and larger organizations. And more new technology is on the way.

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Limelight Networks Inc., which built its business accelerating the delivery of online video for entertainment and media companies and delivering software for companies like Microsoft, is wooing e-commerce companies with the more sophisticated services their dynamic sites require. Limelight added important new features in a release this spring, and more is on the way, the company says.

“Limelight has been striving to move beyond content delivery,” says Jim Davis, senior analyst for networks and media at market research firm Tier 1 Research. “Limelight is becoming more of a platform with software applications on top of it, with content delivery being one of the services that the platform enables.”

With its latest release, Limelight has added several features that target the needs of online retailers that must deliver complex content from multiple sources—such as personalized promotions based on customer data the retailer holds and video stored on an outside company’s server—and have it come together quickly in the consumer’s web browser. Content delivery in e-commerce is thus more complex than delivering a video download for a movie studio, and, Davis notes, it also offers higher profit margins.

The clear leader in this arena is Akamai Technologies, which accounted for 62% of content delivery network revenue in 2009, versus 9.5% for No. 2 Limelight, Tier 1 says. E-commerce is a relatively small part of Limelight’s business today, but it’s an important part of the company’s growth strategy, says Paul Alfieri, vice president of marketing at Limelight. “We recognize there’s a significant amount of investment to be competitive in that marketplace and serve e-commerce,” Alfieri says. “We’re closing that gap.”

Limelight has a ways to go. Only four retailers in the 2010 edition of the <a href="http://www.internetretailer.com/top500/">Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide</a>, list Limelight as their content delivery network provider, versus 125 that list Akamai.

Davis says the latest release of the Limelight Site web acceleration service has several features that figure to be appealing to online retailers. For instance, the new version lets a retailer manage traffic more effectively, for example having Limelight handle traffic from Europe while the retailer’s own servers respond to U.S. consumers. While other content delivery networks offer similar traffic balancing, Davis says Limelight has the somewhat unique feature of allowing a client to send certain traffic to another content delivery network, for instance having all traffic in Korea go to a local provider while Limelight handles other markets.

There is also new content storage functionality that enables Limelight clients to add or reduce the amount of data they store on Limelight servers, paying only for the storage space they use.

An enhanced version of the Limelight Reach service, the vendor`s mobile service, can detect what kind of mobile phone is accessing a client’s site and deliver content properly formatted for that handset. “We can tell the difference between an iPhone and a Blackberry, and I know the iPhone can’t play Flash so I don’t serve Flash to iPhones,” Alfieri says.

And Limelight is going beyond the content delivery role by offering to take a single version of a retailer’s application aimed at mobile phones and doing the coding so that it formats properly for the various smartphones. “The Limelight platform lets the retailer do what they do best, develop the message, and we handle the transcoding and the delivery,” Alfieri says.

More such services beyond data acceleration are in the works. For instance, Alfieri says, Limelight aims to deliver technology in the second half of this year that will enable it to run applications for clients from the Limelight servers communicating with end users. In an early test, he says, Limelight is working with a company that is giving away downloadable files, but has Limelight adding an identifying tag to each download so the client can market to that customer in the future.

Davis says content delivery networks like Limelight need to add such intelligent services, and not just serve as data pipes, if they are to improve their profitability. Limelight, he says, “has put a lot of effort into that in the last year. They’re still at an early stage, but it looks like it’s starting to pay off.”

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