Aaron Peters (Turbobytes)

Podcast Transcription

Joshua: Welcome again to another installment of Web Performance Today Podcast series. I’m your humble host, Joshua Bixby. I’ve had a chance to sit down this week with one of Turbobytes cofounders Aaron Peters who has built a really cool company. Turbobytes is in the business of load balancing between CDNs, finding where they are fast, what regions they are fast in, and sending your traffic to the best one, and I think that anything that brings speed like that is something I want to talk about. I had a chance to sit down with Aaron and talk about how multi CDN load balancing works, why all CDNs aren’t equal. We got a chance to talk about the resource timing APIs which is something that I am really interested in and why people do not get the basics right in web performance. Enjoy. I am on the phone with Aaron Peters CEO cofounder of Turbobytes @ Aaron Peters, welcome to the Web Performance Today Podcast, how are you?

Aaron Peters: Thank you Joshua. I am doing very well. How are you doing?

Joshua: I am great. Are you home today? Are you traveling or are you home?

Aaron Peters: No I am at my house downstairs talking to someone across the big pond in U.S.

Joshua: Ha, ha. Am I going to hear the girls in the background?

Aaron Peters: I hope you are not going to hear any of the girls come downstairs but you know it may happen.

Joshua: You will sort of add something ……...

Aaron Peters: I talked to, you know, Americans a lot but it is good time for that so yeah there we are.

Joshua: I was excited to have you on podcast because we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about CDNs but you with your experience at CDN Planet and obviously Turbobytes have a wealth of experience. So first I think it would be helpful to give everyone a run down on your background and particular on your experience to CDNs because that is topic I want to get into with you.

Aaron Peters: Yeah, okay absolutely. So I have been working as an independent web performance consultant for the past three or four years really got into the small but growing web performance community which is like one big happy family, went to Velocity all the time, in the program committee as speaker, and at Velocity US in 2011 in June I met Sajal Kayan for the first time face to face. We have been in touch by email, twitter, etc, but face to face there he was in Santa Clara, a small guy from India and we just really hit it off and we ended that first day we had couple of ideas written down in my notebook. One being the two we were going to build where you go to a webpage you enter your URL you hit submit and x amount of time later it will tell you how much faster your site is going to be, if you are on this CDN, that CDN, or that CDN. So the outcome could be turn on Cloudfront you know 22% faster turn on whatever 23% faster things like that and because that is the question that we got both of us often from our clients, saying you know, should I use a CDN, how much faster will my site be. And if you give them an answer like yeah it depends on a lot of things and that is not the answer they were looking for and of course our tool would not give a definitive answer but it could be something that wasn’t out there and we just thought it would be cool to build, which we never did, because in September 2011 first thing we did was build just the site with factually correct objective useful information about CDNs focused on direct object delivery which is CDN Planet and we got some great response from that from the CDNs but also from just other people in the market, people looking for CDN and the site should help content providers select the correct CDN.

Joshua: Now see CDNs must have been a bit nervous about that I mean it doesn’t, it isn’t that really commoditizing something at least some of them would like to remain uncommoditized when you put them all next to each other with all the check boxes and I am huge fan of the CDN Planet so do not get me wrong, but wasn’t there any resistance from the CDNs putting themselves up into you know basically you know pure commodity sale which is what it feels it turns it into when you look at it from that perspective. Was there a concern about that?

Aaron Peters: We actually got very positive response from the CDNs you know we build the site in a couple of weeks and after that we had test accounts with you know Highwinds and EdgeCast and NetDNA and a bunch of other CDNs. They were actually pretty happy that there were people who know what they were doing and were you know we had some experience in web performance and CDN of course is all about performance and we just built a site that I think is you know good and we were really working together with the CDNs to get a lot of information out of them as well and all CDNs are treated equally on site which is important to them and now it has been absolutely good and one of the key feedback we got from you know for examples Steve Souders said Aaron your performance got right so where on CDN Planet is the performance data, you know. I want to know if Akamai is faster than Level 3 in the US. I said yes Steve I hear you. He was not the only one to put in that comment and Sajal and I thought about how we could accomplish that and one of the easiest decisions ever was that we were going to do RUM, real user measurements because you know Gomez and Keynote that is all nice and well measuring from the data center but what matters is how fast the CDN is out there in the real world. How long does it take to get an object from CDN to browser that is what matters. So we created some RUM code which is JavaScript and we added that to couple of pages one of that the first guy to add JS was Pat Meenan on web page test.

Joshua: Nice.

Aaron Peters: That was really cool. And after about a week I think for about 5 CDNs we saw the first data and we saw two things, one is in different countries, now let me rephrase, in a lot of countries the performance difference between CDNs was significant, and easy example CloudFront in Australia before they had their PoP there in Sydney, they were not looking good. But apart from those easy examples the CloudFront did not have a PoP there, not that great there but even in western European countries significant differences. The other thing we saw was performance was fluctuating a lot more than we had expected. And that just twitted us and that is also when the idea to build a multi CDN surface that we did which is not Turbobytes that came at that point in time. So we started collecting data for more CDNs, got more beacons coming in and what I did I remember that well also doing that in Berlin at Velocity Europe, just talked to a lot of CDN users, just to understand how they are using CDN if they have any visibility in CDN performance, do they tune for CDN performance do they work with the CDN for that and end of the conversation I would talk a little of bit about our idea for the multi CDN service and I will know that feedback was very valuable and you know positive enough to actually spend way too many hours on building Turbobytes which we did in Q1 and we launched in April 24 and it has been going great.

Joshua: Tell me that tell me about the RUM side of your test so when you are looking at a CDN performance are you pulling the same object off every CDN is that how, that’s how you are running the test, is there any fear one of the things that I have heard customers come and talk to me about is the fact that you know the CDNs during the trial phase are really good at showing fast results that customers almost feel like they are pinning their content to servers that once they get out of the trial phase you know the results aren’t as good. When you know in the RUM your RUM is there any attempt to control for that? Hey now that Turbobytes is big enough we are going just make sure every server has that one image they are looking for which might not be representative of what real customers have. Have your customers experienced the same thing?

Aaron Peters: No I do not think our customers have experienced the same thing but to respond to the topic of CDNs potentially make their CDN look better during the trial period. I think it is pretty well known that a lot of CDNs know where companies like Gomez and Keynote have their test agents, right so they want to be in the same data center preferably you know in the same rack with just one cable between their servers and the Gomez’s server and when we set out to measure CDN performance you know per today we don’t have any public data until the Turbobytes.com or on CDN Planet and but no we haven’t bumped into those issues. You know we can given within our RUM what we do is there is one line javascript code and asynchronous snippet on the webpage waits to on load it, igonres I6-I8 and it will fetch the JS down from our server. In that they will pick from a list of now 16 CDNs they will pick 3 we will only run one test per browser/user per hour. We want our test to be on a fresh connection and even you know do the DNS lookup, what we do is we pick 3 from the list and sequentially one after the other create an invisible I-frame and load an HTML object into that, then we can and in that HTML object which is always the same object there is a javascript code for navigation from the API so we can get the DNS and all the other timing data and we send it back to the parent window by a post message where we actually then you know be connected to our server and that works just you know really well and we actually sometimes we get beacons where DNS time is 0, we just throw that stuff away so we, you know we really are keen on ending up with good data and one of the things that we like a lot about how we do RUM for CDN performance, by the way the HTML object is 15 Kb, I looked at that the average file size of JPEG and GIF and CSS files based on HP archive data which was around 15 K so we took that and so a small object that, small file object delivery that is what we do and in the main JF file when we create the I frame and set its source to that file that is when started timer and the timer will add up to like 5 seconds, so we have like a threshold of 5 second if after 5 second we have not received beacon data via post message from the I frame then beacon has failed to our server and that just gives us a lot of great insights so you know we have data on like I said 15 CDNs now that we look at all the time and I can honestly say that all CDNs without exception have small issues, big issues, and what we call slow countries. Slow countries have everything to do with having a PoP there or not and big issues we seeing a brand CDNs be down in big countries for days. It’s pretty amazing what you see and of course you know with Turbobytes it fits well in our key message being it is better to use more than 1 CDN if you want to have excellent performance all the time everywhere.

Joshua: What surprised you as you have dug deeper and deeper and deeper into the CDN world? Is there anything that surprised you that you didn’t know before?

Aaron Peters: A few things we expected, like it is very competitive a lot of new entrants acquisitions you know weekly maybe. I think one of the it is may be not surprising but definitely what we hope for but a lot of CDNs are really happy to work with us, of course we believe that multi CDN is on the rise there are couple of other companies they are doing something similar to what we are doing and some CDNs like Cotendo, formely knows as Cotendo, CDNetworks today have their own load balancing you know between CDNs it is kind of service so it is not really, really new but it’s still early stage and we just let’s say one exception but basically all CDNs are happy to work with us and to explore how we can work together.

Joshua: One of the things that you guys are sitting on such an interesting treasure-trove of data has you know making the data public or working with the data showing what you are seeing is that something that is under consideration by you guys?

Aaron Peters: Yeah, absolutely. What we did this summer is build a new service that is called Firehouse which has the CDNs as the target audience and not content providers and basically with this paid service we enable a CDN to get their hands on our RUM data. So a CDN can log into the UI or get all the data via you know our API in Jason and we give them a realtime view, they can just pick a country and look at what we call the dancing bar charts for the Netherlands right now and the we have a lot of stats like not just the mean or the average but the median 9th percentile, 10th percentile, it is all there, all the metrics and it is just a wealth of data which gives them a lot of great visibility and we also enable them to do more efficient and effective troubleshooting so that is a service that were working closely with the CDNs for, we are working on making some data public that is probably going to take a little bit more time. Some of the CDNs have asked us if we can make that data public and then they can use that in their marketing and sales effort.

Joshua: Yeah I am sure.

Aaron Peters: Which makes a lot of sense right and we see that happening. It is pretty easy to find. I remember InterDat the other day had a white paper and they had one chart in there from Cedexis which is our key competitor, Cedexis read our data where internet had awesome throughput. Now that was a time period of couple of hours in some country where internet looked good and I understand that a CDN would like to pick the chart where you look good but our fear so to speak is that people will grab the data and put in context where we will look at that and think that is not even half the story, right. You know to us the truth is in the data so how our multiple CDN platform works. The performance data is coming in. We do some validations so to speak then it goes into database offline analysis and it goes into our real time analysis application and it only looks at performance. Some people ask us well if performance is equal where you give the traffic to the cheapest CDN for you, cheapest no there is nothing about price in that. It is all about performance and we just wanted to be you know right.

Joshua: Yeah.

Aaron Peters: No messing with the data. You don’t do that and so we when we make data public we need to get it right.

Joshua: And that makes sense I mean that is such an important part of the value proposition you are presenting it.

Aaron Peters: Yeah truly.

Joshua: You have to make sure the data is right and you are acting with it in good faith. How does resource timings when that comes in how is that. How is that going to change because if I am a CDN, you know, I am bit worried about resource timings in the sense that people can now actually see how well I am performing. You can do that today but it is not as easy how do you think that changes the business of CDN and also the business of multi CDN.

Aaron Peters: Right okay as you can probably expect Josh well we are waiting for the resource timing API. Paul Irish who works at Google he just told me yesterday that it is going to be about 10 more weeks from today for resource timing API to be in Chrome stable.

Joshua: Brilliant.

Aaron Peters: So you know we are waiting for that and that is going to be awesome and I know quite a few people like Andy Davies who are working a lot with the resource timing now with you know Chrome Canary and so I am also waiting for that to be available and I think it is going to give a lot of great extra insights. I think we are not going to change how we measure performance now because it works really well but I am sure that we are going to use that API to collect even more data and in the past seven months we have had I remembered one customer one of our earliest customers he sent us like webpagetest.org waterfalls and stuff and that just gave us a view on, he had a lot of concurrent request and it just seemed that there was buffer blow going on or something was going on there and so when you collect data with resource timing API I think it is going to be very important you know to understand what the data is telling you again you know what is this page, what is the browser and I think it is going to be great and other CDNs are not going to like it. Yeah I am not sure. I said you know be prepared to receive resource timing API based performance data from your customers and know how to respond to that in a good way right. Good means open, friendly, work with your customer… that is really our motto here and again I can’t wait.

Joshua: Yeah I think it is going to be great for your business. You know the elephant in the room when it comes to the CDNs business is always Akamai. They own the lion share, in fact you know I think fairly have been called the monopoly in many cases when it comes to dynamic site acceleration and any high value traffic. Obviously you guys are not a partner of theirs when it comes to the Turbobytes side. Is there a future you think were you could work with Akamai. I am sure you would be open to it. Do you see a place where they will work with you.

Aaron Peters: Well what we currently offer is you know what we can offer to our providers is to use multiple CDNs and we make it very easy to do that. We have 6 CDNs now more to come become our customer and will have all the CDNs deliver your content to the best country all the time. So the content providers are customers that something Akamai does not like. They want to have direct customers. The relationship with the customer and also there is a big gap between our key message to the world being diced to multi CDNs and Akamai’s key message which is in my words in a nutshell we have everything, we are best at everything forget about the rest just work with us right. So that is you know Akamai in our current offering is never going to work with us and you know I spoke to them yeah. So what our competitor Cedexis does is their customers bring their contracts with the CDN and their CDN account to the load balancing platform of Cedexis and that is something that something that Akamai thinks is fine right because you know a content provider will call Cedexis I mean these countries have this kind of content which CDN should I use, they will do some recommendation and you know that might be a new customers for Akamai. So Akamai is cool with that but with our offering it is not what they want no. But you know we will see.

Joshua: You will see and there are lot of competitors that are getting stronger in the market that is you know I looked at the guys like Fastly, Net DNA and what my friends over Amazon are doing there is some cool innovation going on.

Aaron Peters: Absolutely.

Joshua: Across the market.

Aaron Peters: Yeah.

Joshua: What else do you see I mean if we step out of the CDN side and we sort of turn our attention to web performance in general you have lot of experience doing consulting, working with companies to solve their problems, what do you see that is different or when you look at the new year what do you see as key for organizations as they look at the performance challenges in 2013 and beyond?

Aaron Peters: I think still even in 2013 a lot of publishers, a lot of web shops still need to start getting the basics in place right, yeah it is just the way it is. Apart from that I think you know mobile is just growing, growing and growing so that has to be on your road map. With improving your performance you leave out mobile in 2013 that is a huge mistake but the first thing I think that still stands out right I do not have to explain that to you just so many sites out there that are not doing a lot of basics that is really too bad and I obviously would not know what is needed to change that right there has been so many case studies and the big companies like Google, Yahoo, and Amazon telling the world that software is better, and not being picked up on all that much a lot more than two years ago maybe because Google said you know we are going to looks at your page speed for SEO that got a lot of people you know waking up but still it is not very high up in the engine for lot of companies.

Joshua: Yeah it is amazing this far into it and I have this conversation everyday as well you do with your clients it is how hard it is to push the ball up to court man and it is interesting talking to Cliff Crocker about it because with his time at Walmart and he said vendors would always underestimate how hard it was to make the changes. They also knew that they should have you know consolidated that script or moved this there but vendors misunderstood or took the public facing webpage test waterfall data as an example of how stupid they were whereas it actually wasn’t that at all. It is sometimes in the real world this stuff isn’t easy and it is not easy to get in, it is not easy to get in to release it is not easy you know there are other priorities so you know you have worked at Vodafone and the big banks you know that it is not like these people are stupid it is just there are other realities that they face that the vendor community sometimes doesn’t appreciate.

Aaron Peters: Right absolutely you know the bigger companies they move slow usually a lot of people involved in the decision making process and it has nothing to do with willingness. I have never met developer or an engineer who would not like to work on performance. They all at Vodafone I remember at one point the decision had been made the web performance improvement project was going to happen and there were so many happy faces in the room I finally actually spent real time on this right it was like Christmas that day.

Joshua: Yeah and then things get derailed, changed, pushed out, the bureaucracy.

Aaron Peters: Let’s not talk about this topic too much.

Joshua: So finally when are you coming to Vancouver to go Heli Boarding with me when is that happening?

Aaron Peters: Let’s say I need a couple of more years.

Joshua: How old is the youngest?

Aaron Peters: He was almost 3 on December 29.

Joshua: So you have like 2 years left. 2 years and then you can just leave them at home by themselves right.

Aaron Peters: Oh yeah I mean but Turbobytes is taking up way too much of my time and the rest goes the family and friends so trips like that you know I just told my wife the other day. Remember that island on the Maldives we went for our honeymoon, someday we are going back there we are taking the kids for a week of awesomeness. We have a list of stuff that is going to happen but now it is just putting in a lot of investment into Turbobytes and that also feels very good every day.

Joshua: Well I am excited with what you guys are doing. I really appreciate you coming on podcast. Again it is Aaron Peter at Turbobytes at CDN Planet. That is the trifecta.

Aaron Peters: There you go. Yeah. Thanks for your time Joshua. I will see you in Santa Clara.


Joshua: Santa Clara absolutely take care. Thanks again for listening and thanks again to Aaron for taking the time to chat. If you have any questions, feedback, suggestions drop me a line Joshua webperformancetoday.com at Joshua Bixby and be sure to check out our earlier podcast webperformancetoday.com/podcast. Have a great day.


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