Anyone with a working frontal lobe can tell you that growth investing is risky. But it's less common to find a Fool who'll tell you of the big rewards that come with absorbing a little risk.
How big? Allow me to introduce you to Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM ) , best described as the King Kong of the digital-media-delivery business. This Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection is up 169% so far during 2006.
That's the power of competitive advantage at work. Akamai has spent the better part of eight years building and maintaining a global network of 20,000 servers that bring Web content and applications geographically closer to users.
A patented software algorithm acts as traffic control for the bits flying across its network, guiding downloads, streaming media, and Web page requests to their destinations faster and more reliably than a single large pipe could achieve.
Think of it this way: If you've ever lived in California, or New York, or Boston, or Washington, D.C., you know that bigger roads frequently increase, rather than relieve, gridlock. That's one reason why there's a massive and growing market for global positioning devices from Garmin (Nasdaq: GRMN ) and TomTom.
Data traveling along the Akamai tollway gets the digital equivalent of clear roads and built-in GPS, thanks to the firm's central monitoring of the state of traffic on the Internet. (Interestingly, you can keep track of that traffic on your own PC, via an Akamai desktop widget.)
More traffic travels across Akamai's highway than any other, even though there's increasing competition from the likes of InterNAP (Nasdaq: INAP ) and Limelight Networks.
If there's a problem on the horizon, it's called Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , which distributes a huge amount of search traffic via its servers, and which could decide it likes Akamai's business. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) face similar choices.
Don't expect them to jump on the bandwagon. Microsoft has been using Akamai for years to distribute Windows software patches. Meanwhile, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) distributes iTunes downloads through Akamai. Movie studios have recently turned to open-source BitTorrent technology, but iTunes remains the big dog in video downloads. Once a deal is struck with the studios, more downloading business should head Akamai's way.
Bottom line: iTunes and the Web have changed the world forever. iTunes offers entertainment on demand; the Web allows for work anywhere, also on demand. Fast, reliable networks are required to make that model sustainable as data consumption grows. Akamai has the largest such network right now, and it's more relevant than it's ever been.
Merry Christmas, growth investors.
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How great is growth? Three of the dozens of stocks in the market-beatingMotley Fool Rule Breakersportfolio have quadrupled in two years, including Akamai. Care to meet the other two? Try Rule Breakers free for 30 days.
Fool contributorTim Beyers, ranked 636 out of 17,226 inMotley Fool CAPS, is still a very happy owner of Akamai shares. Get the skinny on all of the stocks in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Garmin and Yahoo! are Stock Advisor selections. The Motley Fool'sdisclosure policy is the gift that keeps on giving.