Akamai Powering Apple Live Stream (And I Can Prove It)

Apple (s aapl) has queued up Akamai (s akam) to power today’s highly anticipated live stream of of product announcements by CEO Steve Jobs in San Francisco (which Om will be covering live on GigaOM). Contrary to reports the company would use its new North Carolina data center for the event, the stream will in fact be outsourced to Apple’s long-time CDN partner.

I know this is a battle of various reporters claiming their sources are right, but if my reporting is correct you’ll actually be able to see it for yourself. Akamai displays a real-time visualization of its active streams, and breaks out live streams specifically. I’m expecting we’ll see a significant bump from the current total global live streams powered by Akamai — currently a bit under 600,000 — right at 10 a.m. PT.

A source familiar with Apple’s streaming plans said that not only is the North Carolina data center not yet online, but one single facility could likely not handle such an event; large, distributed global audiences are exactly what CDNs are built for. (As a side note, apparently one of Apple’s major concerns about executing the stream was the level of demand coming from its own employees watching from the network at its Cupertino headquarters.)

Though Apple isn’t geoblocking the stream, it is limited only to Apple devices. That’s because Apple has yet to port its HTTP streaming technology to QuickTime for Windows. The company considered using traditional RTSP streaming for Windows users, but according to the source, decided the quality wouldn’t be sufficient. I suppose they could have also enlisted Microsoft’s (s msft) Silverlight HTTP streaming, but considering it’s Apple, that was probably out of the question.

This is Apple’s first live video feed of an announcement in a long time; Macworld keynotes used to be streamed, but for the last five years fans have had to rely on live-blogging from reporters attending the closed-door events.

Apple’s HTTP streaming is an adaptive bitrate technology, meaning it can detect a watcher’s bandwidth and CPU capabilities in real time and then adjust the quality of a video stream. This requires encoding a single video at multiple bitrates and switching to the most appropriate one on a moment-by-moment basis (something companies like Inlet Technologies have pioneered). The result is very little buffering, fast start time and a good experience for both high-end and low-end connections.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The Next Big Thing in Online Video: Adaptive Bitrate Streaming