Daniel Lewin - Akamai

Outstanding Student

"Daniel Lewin could, of course, leave Akamai, complete his doctorate and publish his thesis," Paul Sagan, president of the hottest company on the Internet said recently, "But then we'd have to kill him."

In fact, Akamai encourages the majority of its employees to complete their studies at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), but it's a different story with Daniel Lewin he simply knows too much. It is not only that Lewin is one of the two founders of the only start-up in history to reach a company value of $13 billion on its first day of stock exchange trading, but also that his master's thesis served as the basis for setting up the company. His MIT mathematics professor, Tom Leighton, was impressed with his idea, and the two approached Paul Sagan, who signed a contract to set up a company for them.

Daniel Lewin was born in Denver Colorado, and came as a youngster to live in Israel with his parents. He served in the Israel Defense Forces for four years, studied at the Haifa Technion, and worked at the IBM research laboratory in Haifa, where he was in charge of the Genesis system for computing analysis. In 1995, the Technion named him the year's Outstanding Student in computer engineering. He then went to MIT to work on his masters' degree in the algorithms group at the computer science laboratories. The next step to Akamai was relatively short.

The idea Lewin developed together with Prof. Leighton is quite simple, although the algorithms behind it are very complicated. Then again, perhaps they are simple too no-one knows. This is the secret device of Akamai. The problem was how to speed up Internet use, particularly in "heavy" sites with servers being bombarded by thousands of visitors.

Akamai was set up a year ago. The company established a network of 1,000 servers at a number of communications junctions throughout the world. The network "rewrites" the addresses of customers' Internet pages, and assures fast access by providing the information requested by the surfers through any of the company's servers that are available at that moment, instead of via the congested servers. The technology has another interesting point in its favor: the greater the load on the system and the more traffic it deals with, mathematically its performance improves. This, at least, is the widespread belief.

Some companies cease to be start-ups the moment they reach the market, and become a market themselves, regardless of how young they are. Lewin perhaps understood this right from the beginning. In order to find a suitable name for his company, Lewin entered the Internet and looked at an online English-Hawaiian dictionary. There he found the strange word "Akamai", which in English means "Intelligent" or "Cool", whichever is preferred.

Akamai's success is thought provoking as well as attracting admiration. This is not a company based on a brilliant before-its-time marketing idea, nor one based on redirecting a known technology from one application to another. No, this is a company based on pure science, in the purest sense of the word. It sends a huge message, particularly in a country that has succeeded in building an impressive scientific infrastructure, and must now learn how to maintain and take care of it. Just imagine what would have happened if, instead of Lewin going to MIT, Prof. Leighton had come to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Published by Israel's Business Arena on December 22, 1999

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