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Daniel Lewin, A Vision Realized, A Life Cut too Short

Author: Diana Rozenblum, ABT Internet

July 7, 2012




 

As a technology writer for ABT Internet, I wanted to delve into a comparison analysis on the benefits and obstacles of Content Delivery Systems versus Static Servers. During my research on CDN, I came across Danny Lewin and paused to reflect on his life, heroism and vision that ultimately changed the face of how we receive and transfer information.

Before getting into the brilliant work Danny did that revolutionized the technology industry today, I feel it is only right to reflect on his short life and pay tribute to his accomplishments both in his private life as well as his foresight in the world of technological advancements. It is said that a person lives beyond his lifespan in the footprint he leaves on this earth. Danny left his mark through a lifetime of personal achievements of heroism, ingenuity and hard work. I chose to re-publish the following article on Danny Lewin, because I felt it was important to pay tribute to the man behind the technology and way we communicate today. He was not only a genius but an example of strength and courage whose life and accomplishments will not be forgotten. The following are excerpts from an article written by Tom Leighton , Danny's mentor, MIT Professor and ultimately his founding partner at Akamai.

Danny Lewin grew up in Denver, Colorado. At the age of 14, he moved with his family to Jerusalem. After graduating from high school, Danny joined the Israeli Defense Forces. During his three years in the army, Danny applied for and was selected into one of the IDF's most challenging and elite army units, where he was promoted to the rank of Captain.

After his army duty, Danny enrolled in the Technion, where he double-majored in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. In 1996, he came to MIT to study Theoretical Computer Science. During his first year at MIT, Danny quickly distinguished himself as a star student. In addition to taking courses and serving as my Teaching Assistant, Danny co-authored several papers in algorithms and complexity theory, two of which were later published in STOC and FOCS. One of these papers was on the problem of distributing web content in the internet. As part of this work, Danny discovered consistent hashing, which is a very elegant and useful way of hashing in distributed networks. His Master's Thesis on this subject later won the best thesis prize in EECS at MIT.

In the Fall of 1997, Danny got the idea of writing a business plan based on his thesis work and entering it in MIT's $50K Contest. Danny thought it would be a good idea to have someone with gray hair on the 50K team and so he talked me into doing it with him. He used to joke that the prize money would be his best chance to pay off his mounting student loans.

As it turned out, we didn't win the $50K--in fact, we lost to a nonprofit business plan--but we did learn alot about the potential applications of our work on content delivery, and we did talk to alot of potential customers, partners, and venture capitalists. And, by the Fall of 1998, we decided to form a company called Akamai Technologies, whose mission was to use algorithms to make the web work better. Danny was Akamai's first President and its central driving force. During our first year in business, Danny worked 15-20 hours every day doing anything and everything to make Akamai successful. As a direct result of his tremendous creativity and drive, the web really does work better today. Through Danny's vision and tireless efforts, led the next generation of web services and distributed applications. By 2001, Danny was widely recognized as one of the most influential technologists of his generation. One well-known trade publication ranked him as the seventh most important technologist in the world, one notch behind Steve Ballmer and several notches ahead of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Marc Andreessen. Danny was killed on September 11. He was on American Flight 11 on his way to meetings in California when his plane was hijacked. In true Danny form, he fought back against the terrorists in an effort to defend the stewardesses and the cockpit. To this day, those of us who knew him well can't figure out how only five terrorists managed to overpower him.

During his short life, Danny made extraordinary contributions to the internet and to computer science through his work in algorithms and complexity theory. The impact of his work will be felt throughout the hi-tech industry for many years to come. Danny's success in transforming the way that the web works has also brought substantial credit and respect to our field from a wide cross-section of the technical community. Danny Lewin was a truly remarkable human being. The naming of the STOC Best Student Paper Award in his honor will be a lasting tribute to his memory and a fitting reminder of his extraordinary accomplishments.

Lewin is survived by his wife Anne and his two sons, Eitan and Itamar, who were aged five and eight during the September 2001 attacks.


Diana Rozenblum is a technology writer for abt internet

   



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