Daniel Lewin

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The Independent Online

Daniel M. Lewin, information technologist: born Denver, Colorado 1970; chief technology officer, Akamai Technologies 1998-2001; married (two sons); died New York 11 September 2001.

Daniel Lewin was a co-founder of Akamai Technologies, a leading internet services company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lewin was the chief technology officer of Akamai, a company established in September 1998 to enable companies to reduce the complexity and cost of delivering web-site content. The company's customers include many leading media companies such as Britannica, CNN, Paramount, Reuters and Yahoo!, as well as financial services operations and internet retailers. Under Lewin's technical leadership the company grew meteorically, currently with over a thousand employees and delivering content through 11,600 servers on 800 networks in 62 countries.

Lewin was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1970, but grew up in Jerusalem, and maintained dual citizenship. Before going to university, he served in the Israel Defence Forces for more than four years, rising to the rank of captain. He was a brilliant and energetic student, studying at Technion, Israel's top technological university, while at the same time employed full-time in IBM's Haifa research laboratory. In 1995 Technion named him the year's Outstanding Student in Computer Engineering. At IBM he was responsible for Genesys, a system for the verification of computer hardware, used by IBM and several other computer manufacturers.

In 1996 he enrolled for a master's degree at the Laboratory for Computer Science in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The topic of his master's thesis was inspired by Tim Berners-Lee, the British-born inventor of the World Wide Web, who had recently joined MIT. Berners-Lee recognised that congestion on the web – sometimes despairingly called the World Wide Wait – was a major technical problem for the internet, and set a challenge to his MIT colleagues to invent fundamentally new and better ways of delivering content.

Another problem was coping with web "hot spots" when millions of surfers use the same web site at the same time – the internet equivalent of what happens when millions of television viewers switch on the electric kettle during a commercial break. Professor Tom Leighton, who had an office down the corridor from Berners-Lee and was head of the MIT Algorithms Group, was intrigued by the challenge, and set up a project to explore mathematically based solutions to the problem.

Lewin was one of the graduate students who joined the group, which developed a number of breakthrough techniques for tackling the problem of net congestion. Some of these methods were described in Lewin's dissertation, which won MIT's award for the best master's thesis presentation of 1998.

In September 1998 Leighton and Lewin co-founded Akamai Technologies, obtaining an exclusive technology licence from MIT. Akamai was set up, with the slogan "delivering a better internet", to enable corporate clients improve their web-site performance by off-loading big files on to Akamai's networks, relieving the congestion on their own systems. While the founders served as chief scientific and technology officers, they were able to convince major figures from the IT industry, including Paul Sagan, former head of Time Inc New Media, to serve as operating officers.

Following venture financing, the firm began commercial operation in April 1999. Its charter customer was Yahoo!, perhaps the world's most- trafficked web site. At its Initial Public Offering in October 1999, the firm was capitalised at $13bn, making its founders briefly paper billionaires, before the internet bubble burst.

Lewin was recently named one of the 25 most influential Chief Technology Officers by InfoWorld, and ranked seventh in the Power 100 list of the Enterprise Systems Journal. Having risen to such prominence in the IT industry in just three years, Lewin's was in every way a career cut short in its prime. He was studying for a PhD at MIT at the time of his death.

In private life Lewin lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, and his pastimes were devoted to the pursuit of speed – motor cycling, fast cars, and skiing. He died on the American Airlines flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Centre.

Martin Campbell-Kelly