In the 1990s, with the birth of the public Internet and the success of the World Wide Web, the network was experiencing high and peak demand resulting in significant congestion. Generally, each time content was requested by an end-user, the request would go across the backbones to the content host server, the content would be served and travel back across the backbones, and it would be delivered across the access network to the end user. When peak demand hit World Wide Web resources, content would become congested and some traffic would not get through (packet loss). In 1999, catastrophically demonstrating the problem of content delivery at that time, Victoria's Secret advertised during the Superbowl that it would webcast its fashion show. 1.5 million people attempted to view the Victoria's Secrets webcast, overwhelming the server infrastructure, resulting in a poor experience. [Adler] [Borland] Online services had a problem moving content from source, across the backbones, to eyeballs.
In 1995, Tim Berners Lee foresaw that this means of delivering content could not successfully scale. He challenged colleagues at MIT to invent a way to deliver web traffic and mitigate congestion, particularly during moments of peak or flash demand. [Akamai History] [Mitra (quoting Tom Leighton, "Tim was interested in issues with the Internet and the web, and he foresaw there would be problems with congestion. Hot spots, flash crowds, … and that the centralized model of distributing content would be facing challenges. He was right.... He presented an ideal problem for me and my group to work on.")][Berners-Lee] [Held 149] (For discussion of flash demand, see [Jung] [Khan]) A 1998 entrepreneurship competition at MIT resulted in Patent '703 which became Akamai [Akamai History] [Khan]. CDNs were designed to fetch and cache the most popular content, store it closer to access networks, and permit quality access to the content while avoiding transit fees.