As millions of fans are staying in the comfort of their homes to watch blockbuster TV series or the hottest movie releases, media networks are increasingly relying on high-tech companies to deliver crystal-clear pictures without interruptions.
That viewing quality wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago. One company that is helping deliver that service is Fastly, a new edge cloud platform provider.
Fastly is one of handful of edge cloud providers—including Akamai, Cloudflare, and Amazon's Cloudfront—that are transforming the internet's infrastructure. They specialize in transmitting mega-data packages like video, streaming them not just at faster speeds, but with fewer disruptions direct to consumers' digital devices.
Fastly, viewed as a "next-generation" edge cloud platform, went public in May of 2019. William Blair was an underwriter of the shares.
The firm was founded in 2011 in California by Artur Bergman, who then was a web developer at Wikia, the commercial version of Wikipedia. Bergman's breakthrough idea came from understanding how success in transmitting massive data over the internet relies on actual physical proximity of the local servers to local users. It is similar to the insights that enabled systems of hyperfast high-speed trading on financial markets in recent years.
Fastly's edge cloud model, created by developers for developers, is now benefiting many companies including The New York Times, Alaska Airlines, Ticketmaster, and Airbnb.
"At Wikia, a page could be changed anytime by anyone," Bergman told Client Focus in an interview. "We needed a solution that when someone changes something we can cache or get rid of the content around the world really fast. The problem was that we couldn’t control the content and our customers were waiting 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours for pages to update."
At the time, the CDN and edge tools Bergman realized he needed to increase speed weren't available. So Bergman developed a solution to Wikia contributions and editing that included instant purge, programmability, and edge computing.
"We dramatically reduced the page load time around the world to 150 milliseconds," Bergman said.
Edge computing is what Fastly terms the physical closeness of its delivery apps to its customers' customers. The idea is that you don't want to stream a video, data package, or update web pages through the entire expanse of the internet. Instead, Fastly places its servers at high-density connection points, where those of telecom networks (internet service providers or ISPs) like Verizon, Comcast, or AT&T also live. Fastly caches the valuable content from its customer sources, then moves the data to the servers co-located at the ISPs so the content is delivered lightning-fast straight to the end-user.
Revenue doubled since 2017
The success of that idea has helped drive Fastly's revenue growth, which roughly doubled from $104.9 million in 2017 to $200 million in 2019. Fastly founded with seven employees in 2011, now has nearly 600 worldwide. Based in San Francisco, Fastly has additional offices in Portland, Denver, New York, London, and Tokyo.
"They are architected for the next generation of the internet," said William Blair technology analyst Jonathan Ho. "If you think about the web 20 years ago, there were pictures, some words. It was very static content. But today there's real-time bidding for ads, there's analytics, personalization of content. There are all kinds of things happening behind the scenes that can slow down the experience as a user if you're not using the right type of CDN or the right type of technology."
"So Fastly architected themselves for the kinds of shifts that have happened over that 20-year period. We think that could help them be disruptive in the edge cloud market," Ho adds.
Leadership changes aim at growth
To spur more growth, Bergman said, the company in February announced changes to its leadership roles. Bergman relinquished the CEO role to become chief architect and executive chairperson. Joshua Bixby, who had been president of Fastly and worked with Bergman for six years, was named as the new CEO.
"It was a natural transition for Joshua so he can do the things that he is really good at and passionate about and I can do the same," said Bergman, who said he will be focusing on the company's edge compute technology and security products.
Bergman says there is an opportunity to expand Fastly's security products that protect internet information as well as find new applications for edge compute technology through close collaboration with its client base.
"Our customers are really innovative in many ways we haven’t anticipated. That’s the cool part of being a platform and knowing that we’re giving it even more power to do things on the edge," Bergman said. "They can write whatever they want, and I really look forward to seeing what they do with it."
Editor's note: In a March 26 blog, Fastly explains how they are servicing customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.