Add some PEP to your Web site

By Salvatore Salamone, Network World |  Networking

Several companies, including BoostWorks Inc., Fireclick Inc., NetScaler Inc., Speedwise Inc. and wwWhoosh Inc., are taking new approaches to accelerating the delivery of content. The products in this ill-defined market complement, not replace, existing performance- enhancing products and services such as load-balancing switches, caching devices and content delivery networks.

These new acceleration products operate as performance-enhancing proxies (PEP), which take requests from a user's browser to a particular Web server and perform some task, such as retrieving and converting a color image on that server to gray scale for a PDA user. Some work in conjunction with Web servers and operate on all the data passing between the user's browser and a Web server.

The approaches and technologies used to speed delivery of Web pages varies greatly from company to company. However, the efforts of these vendors focus on one or more of four basic areas: data optimization for different display devices; data compression in general; taking advantage of lulls between page transmissions to send objects to the browser's cache before a page is requested; and optimizing HTTP and TCP communications.

The new products and services aim to improve the user experience by reducing wait time to view a Web page. While this is important for any site, IT managers are finding this is essential for commerce sites. Improved performance can translate into increased revenue.

That was the case for Art.com, a commercial Web site with a gallery that includes more than 30,000 prints. Art.com, which was acquired last month by Allwall.com, experienced a 30 percent reduction in page download times using acceleration technology. Additionally, the company saw a significant increase in the number of visitors who bought items on the site.

"We monitored conversion rates so that we'd have a good apples-to-apples comparison," says Dennis Sage, Art.com's director of development. He says the only change made was to use Fireclick's Netflame service. "When we measured the results, conversion rates improved by 10 percent, which is huge for us,"Sage says.

Netflame is a Fireclick service based on the company's Blueflame technology. Blueflame and Netflame use what Fireclick calls "next most likely click" caching technology to improve performance. This technology analyzes user patterns when they come to a Web site.

Once a pattern is determined, the software takes advantage of periods when less data is being transferred (for example, when a user is viewing a page) to send elements such as text or image files of the next most-likely-to-click-on page down to the user's browser cache. If the user clicks on that link, many of the page elements are already stored in the user's cache, so there is no wait for the elements to be downloaded. To a user, it seems as though they have a faster link because pages come up in a shorter period of time.

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