Tyger Tyger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

-- From "The Tyger," by William Blake

On Wednesday night, Internet traffic wrangler Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM) will report first-quarter earnings. Check your browsing history to brush up on last quarter's numbers and the story behind them, and then come back for a fresh helping of bits, bytes, and business.

What Fools say:
Here's how Akamai's Motley Fool CAPS rating stacks up against some of its peers and competitors:

Market Cap (billions)

Trailing P/E Ratio

CAPS Rating

Akamai

$5.94

63.1

*****

Level 3 Communications (Nasdaq: LVLT)

$4.58

N/A

****

NeuStar (NYSE: NSR)

$2.12

23.4

*****

Limelight Networks (Nasdaq: LLNW)

$0.25

N/A

**

Internap Network Services (Nasdaq: INAP)

$0.24

N/A

***

Data taken from Motley Fool CAPS on 04/29/2008.

Just like Level 3, Akamai depends on the global thirst for Internet bandwidth to parch even further. The CAPS players who don't like Akamai's chances to beat the market point to bandwidth being a commodity where prices are in an eternal downward slide, with dire consequences for its providers. Their bullish counterparts note that Akamai, like Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) on the hardware side a decade ago, is the clear leader in its space -- and mind share counts for a lot.

What management does:
You have to be impressed by any company that manages margins and growth with such consistent excellence as Akamai. I'm particularly encouraged by the tax-efficient way that free cash flows always come in fatter than net income.

Margins

9/06

12/06

3/07

6/07

9/07

12/07

Gross

78.8%

82.0%

77.1%

75.8%

74.7%

77.7%

Operating

20.2%

23.4%

19.4%

20.1%

20.7%

26.8%

Net

16.2%

13.4%

13.6%

14.3%

14.8%

15.9%

FCF/Revenue

24.2%

17.5%

17.7%

14.9%

17.8%

24.2%

Growth (YOY)

9/06

12/06

3/07

6/07

9/07

12/07

Revenue

49.4%

51.4%

52.0%

51.2%

50.1%

48.5%

Earnings

41.9%

62.0%

42.0%

51.6%

58.4%

68.4%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
It's important to understand that the ace up Akamai's sleeve is efficiency. Using the company's worldwide network of content and application delivery points, a heavy user like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iTunes can cut down its global bandwidth use considerably -- simply by redirecting customer traffic to servers in their own neighborhood.

I remember Akamai as an annoyance back in the 1990s, when an immature platform often led to messages like "Connecting to a456.g.akamai.net ..." holding up your browsing for far too long. But the company grew up, and so did its technology, and Akamai is now part of the solution rather than the problem.

We've seen healthy reports from a few online giants this earnings season, while others were not so lucky. Akamai is in the habit of beating expectations these days, and I'm willing to bet that it happens again.

Further Fooldom:

Akamai Technologies is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation and Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is an Akamai shareholder, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is the Punxsutawney Phil of financial forecasting.