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Traffic Cops Of The Net

Somebody has to keep all those billions of bytes moving. Chances are, it's Akamai

For weeks, techies were abuzz with speculation about Apple's (AAPL ) plans to move into movies. And at a Sept. 12 announcement, CEO Steven P. Jobs didn't disappoint, telling a packed audience of journalists in San Francisco that Apple will begin by offering downloads of Walt Disney Co. films. But for many investors, an equally intriguing story has been the company that will make sure all those billions of video bytes don't bring Apple's iTunes Web site to a grinding halt.

Few tech companies have been hotter over the past year than Akamai Technologies Inc. (AKAM ) It's a prime example of the rich profits that can be made on the Web's plumbing -- the data centers, servers, and services that keep rising levels of data traffic moving smoothly. The Cambridge (Mass.) company, which employs complex math equations and thousands of scattered servers to ship packets of data efficiently to Web surfers, saw its sales explode by 56% in the second quarter. Sales should top $400 million by the end of the year. The company is almost obscenely profitable, with operating margins of more than 30%. Its stock has tripled, to about 43, over the past year.