Akamai Buys Blaze as Web Optimization Heats Up in Boston

2/8/12Follow @gthuang

A young Canadian software startup with Boston investors is now part of a big Boston-area company. Ottawa-based Blaze Software has been acquired by Cambridge, MA-based Akamai (NASDAQ: AKAM) for an undisclosed cash sum.

What’s interesting here is that Akamai, the Web content delivery and networking giant, is making a move into Web performance optimization—basically tackling Web performance at the browser level (what some call “front end”), rather than the network level. Akamai has been positioning itself as a one-stop provider of a secure platform for businesses to reach customers via the Web, mobile, and cloud. That approach also includes, among other things, speeding up Web and mobile applications, as evidenced by the company’s recent acquisition of its California-based rival Cotendo for $268 million.

Today’s deal is no doubt smaller than that, but it could be an important sign of things to come—especially around Boston. Blaze started in 2010, and its seed funding came from local investors CommonAngels and Boston Seed Capital. So why sell now?

“You always have a choice of how you want to grow the business,” says Chris Sheehan, managing director of CommonAngels. “It made a lot of sense for the guys to partner up with Akamai, who’s so strong in the [content delivery network] space. When I made the investment, [Web performance optimization] was just beginning. The timing was sooner than I expected. But in the last 12 months, this whole thing has really started to take off.” [Disclosure: CommonAngels is an investor in Xconomy, and Sheehan is a board member at Xconomy.]

Blaze’s approach is to optimize the code on Web pages so as to speed up the transmission of content and render pages faster on whatever device the customer is browsing on—PC, tablet, or smartphone. This is particularly useful for e-commerce and media sites, which tend to get gummed up by lots of different pieces of code loading on them. The company’s technology (and team) will be integrated into Akamai’s cloud platform, said Rick McConnell, executive vice president of products and development at Akamai, in a statement.

In speeding up websites, Blaze competes directly with Boston-based companies Yottaa (which is also in Boston Seed’s portfolio) and SiteSpect. Google’s team in Kendall Square also released a free tool for Web page optimization in the fall of 2010.

It’s not just about making websites faster, however. All of the above companies have been trying to combine Web optimization with business analytics so as to help businesses track things like sales and customer behavior more effectively. Now Akamai is firmly in the game, and we’ll see how that affects the competitive landscape.

“It’s going to make it a lot harder,” Sheehan says. “It puts a lot of pressure on the other startups.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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