The Hale-Bopp Comet and the Birth of CDNs


In 1995, the scientific community was abuzz with the anticipated pass of the Hale-Bopp comet, one of the most viewed comets of the 20th century. The MIT team wanted to share this spectacular astronomical event with the world by posting photographs online for public viewing. However, they realized that the volume of traffic this would generate could overwhelm their servers. It was clear that the central server model, where all requests were funneled through one point, was insufficient.

The Globule Project

Faced with this challenge, a team at MIT, including future Akamai co-founder Tom Leighton, began working on a solution. The project was initially dubbed “Globule” — a system for distributing web content to various host servers to better handle traffic. The idea was to use an algorithm that could distribute the load across multiple servers and serve content to users from the geographically closest server. This project was the precursor to what we now know as a CDN.

The Founding of Akamai

The Globule project’s success paved the way for commercial application. Tom Leighton partnered with Danny Lewin, an MIT student and applied mathematics whizz, to co-found Akamai Technologies in 1998. The company’s name comes from the Hawaiian word for “smart” or “intelligent.” Akamai’s initial product was FreeFlow, a content delivery service, which was effectively the world’s first CDN.

Early Success and Adoption

Akamai’s technology was quickly recognized for its potential to revolutionize internet content delivery. Just a year after its launch, the Akamai CDN was used to support the delivery of content for major events like the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. By distributing content delivery, Akamai’s FreeFlow managed to provide smooth, uninterrupted streaming, proving that the CDN model worked at scale.


The establishment of Akamai was a pivotal moment in the history of the internet. By demonstrating the effectiveness and efficiency of the CDN model, it set the stage for the development of a host of other CDN services. Today, CDNs are integral to the infrastructure of the internet, ensuring that users around the globe have quick and reliable access to online content.

In summary, the Hale-Bopp comet’s impending arrival led to a surge in anticipated web traffic, prompting the creation of an algorithm that would form the basis for modern CDN technology. Akamai’s co-founder, Tom Leighton, was instrumental in this development, leading to the launch of the first commercial CDN in 1998. Today, Akamai is one of the largest CDN providers globally, and its pioneering work set the foundation for the internet as we know it.