Mirror Image takes on Akamai

Upstart firm wants to take on a major market leader for Internet content and storage

The Museum of the Moving Image

Data storage is a particularly vexing problem for agencies, which need a place to put mountains of information. The information must be readily accessible, but many agencies can’t — or don’t want to — build the information technology infrastructure necessary to store it on-site.

Another issue is Web hosting. Agencies that have popular Web sites are especially concerned because the infrastructure needed to serve millions of Web visitors a day is daunting.

That’s where Mirror Image Internet comes in. The small company calls itself a second-generation content delivery network, with 23 clusters of data centers worldwide to provide data streaming, secure content delivery and storage. It is trying to compete against a bigger fish in the federal pond, Akamai Technologies.

The data storage problem has become a major issue for federal agencies. Many departments are turning to private companies that handle storage and hosting solutions that make Web sites run faster and more smoothly. Agencies essentially rent the technology instead of building it.

“The main advantage is architectural,” said Greg Adams, territory manager of Mirror Image’s government sector. “Our costs are much lower” than agencies would face in doing it themselves. However, in positioning itself as a competitor to Akamai, long the dominant player in the content delivery field, Mirror Image has set a high bar, said Frank Dzubeck, president and chief executive officer of Communications Network Architects.

“This is a mature marketplace; that’s the problem,” Dzubeck said. “It’s been mature for a long time.” Unseating an incumbent is a difficult task, he said. Start-up firms that are serious about succeeding should choose a niche, as Akamai competitor Savvis did with video content delivery.

However, Mirror Image has some federal customers and a dozen more in the process of transitioning from in-house or Akamai systems, Adams said.

“More and more companies — be it retail, news media, or government — are all looking to offload content,” said Martin Hayward, Mirror Image’s marketing director. “They don’t want to build a global infrastructure.”

Agencies also look to Mirror Image or Akamai to handle spikes in Web traffic. For example, the National Weather Service’s Web site has fluctuations in demand. It gets about 6 million visitors on a day of normal weather. But when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last year, that number soared to 40 million visitors a day.

NWS uses both Mirror Image and Akamai for its Internet needs, said Robert Bunge, the agency’s Internet dissemination officer. Mirror Image’s content delivery network hosts NWS’ site and easily handled the increased demand during Katrina, he said.

“It is a lot more immediately expandable than we would have been if we had tried to build out the infrastructure ourselves,” Bunge said.

Meanwhile, Akamai handles NWS’ national hurricane weather site, Bunge said. NWS has been using Akamai since 2003 and Mirror Image for about five months.

Akamai does not seem worried about Mirror Image. Betsy Appleby, vice president of Akamai’s public sector, said the company remains a clear leader in the field, with 13 Cabinet-level agencies in government using Akamai products.

“Akamai is all over the Internet,” she said. “We have over 17,000 servers. I have no reference of any business that [Mirror Image has] taken away from us at this point.”

Michael Hardy contributed to this story.