For Akamai, Another Avenue for Growth

Fellow Fool Selena Maranjian is right. Press releases usually are bunk. So when Rule Breakers pick Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) announced that it was profiting from the uptake of software-as-a-service, otherwise known as SaaS, I was skeptical.

Not that the news is bad. Akamai says that traffic generated by its SaaS customers increased fivefold in the year ending January 2007. That's awesome, but it would be better if we knew the actual data. Akamai could have been starting from near zero.

Why am I so cynical? Red Herring put it best in covering the news: "... despite widespread hype, software delivered as a service over the Internet has disappointed investors for more than a decade, and still remains a fringe technology today." [Emphasis mine.]

Exactly. Trouble is, Akamai may finally be in the right place at the right time.

Think about it. Software-as-a-service can't work without a secure and reliable Web infrastructure to undergird it. But the Web itself is inherently unpredictable. That would still be a problem for SaaS providers like Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) and its ilk save for Akamai's managed network of 20,000-plus global servers.

For its part, the company says that 50 of its 125 SaaS customers have signed on in the past 10 months. One of those seems to be Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , which says that it will rely on Akamai to carry traffic for the SaaS applications that it hosts for business customers.

Color me intrigued. For all the talk of how overvalued Akamai's stock is, SaaS offers a way forward. Relieving the growing pains of SaaS up-and-comers like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) could unleash a market that researcher Gartner says will triple to $19.3 billion by 2011. If that's even within spitting distance of being correct, then it puts Akamai at the center of another opportunity to boost revenue by 30% or better for several years.

Of course, that's just an estimate, and it could easily be wrong. Plus, Akamai's stock has already had plenty of run-up and looks to have continued growth priced in. Value investors needn't apply here.

But for me, a growth investor by nature, there's something reassuring in this SaaS hypefest. Call it the makings of a strategy that, at the very least, makes eminent sense. If it leads to yet another source for outsized growth, all the better.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, who is a regular contributor to the Rule Breakers team, owned shares of Akamai at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is more service than software. But you knew that, right?


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