The recent spate of Web site outages at Charles Schwab & Co and Britannica.com underscores a growing demand for technology that manages the flow of Web content regardless of traffic volume.
So it's no wonder companies and investors are drawn to a nascent but hot market for internet content distribution services.
Web sites with heavy traffic or rich content sometimes experience slow-loading pages or even outages during peak traffic. Content distribution services are able to speed content on the Web by deploying servers closer to the end user and shortening the distance content needs to travel.
"It's going to be increasingly important for everybody to put your content out at the fringe of the network," said Steve Robins, an analyst at The Yankee Group.
Industry players Akamai Technologies and the newly merged Digital Island and Sandpiper Networks each have 1200 servers in more than 21 countries. Akamai, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also links with 40 internet provider networks. Sandpiper maintains its own content delivery network.
Performance improvements can be significant. Akamai boasts transmission speeds that are two to six times faster than transmissions without the service, depending on traffic volume.
But observers said the real benefits are balanced traffic and greater reliability. "Considering the lifestyle nature of our brand, we must use compelling photography and quick speed to showcase our merchandise," said Brian Sugar, director of new media at clothing retailer J. Crew Group.
While most industry analysts expect content distribution services to gain in popularity, they don't have exact figures on its market potential because the technology is relatively new. But the market is heating up.
Akamai was set for an initial public offering last Friday that promised to push the 18-month-old company's market capitalization to more than $US1 billion. Also, network services provider Digital Island and content delivery firm Sandpiper Networks announced a merger last week in a $630 million stock swap.