Dynamic Web pages prepared for takeoff

You won't find any mention of FineGround Networks or caching technology sandwiched between the articles about Cameron Diaz or Madrid in Sky, Delta Air Lines' in-flight magazine. But without FineGround's ability to speed up the delivery of dynamic Web page content, your trip might lack food, beverages or a clean cabin.

E-Gatematrix (a subsidiary of Zurich-based Swissair Group) provides catering and flight services to all Delta flights using 30 subcontractors located throughout the route structure of Delta.

But because the information changes constantly E-Gatematrix provides 54,000 meals a day at 180 domestic catering locations the online system has to quickly serve up new data on dynamic Web pages without compromising download times. In some cases, users might scroll through 10 to 15 screens of data for a day's worth of flights to find that only two items have changed on each page. "Try doing that with less than a 56K connection," says Robert Eads, CIO and executive vice president at E-Gatematrix.

The Web Condensed

FineGround's Condenser software uses what the company calls delta optimization technology to transmit to an end user's browser only the Web-page data that has changed since the previous view. The browser has the rest of the page information in its local cache. But the technology doesn't require a browser plug-in or other software on the client. Condenser, which runs on Linux or Solaris servers, includes techniques for optimizing graphics and other embedded objects. It also accelerates Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) transactions by encrypting and transmitting only changed elements. And a connection-pooling feature allows users to manage connections to various application servers and related data via a browser interface.

"When the user requests a page, the Condenser identifies the user's browser type and applies those technologies supported by the browser," says Nat Kausik, president and CEO of FineGround. "A user at a desktop PC might realize the benefit of one set of FineGround technologies designed for a full-blown browser, while a user on a Pocket PC will see a different set of FineGround interfaces because of the smaller footprint."

"The types of content that folks are using on their Web sites has changed," says Greg Howard, an analyst at The HTRC Group LLC in San Andreas, Calif. In a September 2000 HTRC study, 87 percent of 100 Web site decision-makers said their companies were using dynamic content on their sites. Howard says that figure held firm in a July 2001 survey of 100 Web site decision-makers.

But the percentage of companies that said they're adopting secure-content technologies which typically generate dynamic or personalized content rose from 72 percent in 2000 to 76 percent in 2001, and the percentage using personalized content from XML-based applications jumped from 27 percent to 67 percent. Both content types require pages to be refreshed regularly. Howard says FineGround's technology can speed access to such pages because it optimizes based on what's already in the user's cache.

"There is a good market for them," he says. "They've shown it works, and [they] are shipping a product."

However, the technology doesn't help generate content faster, nor does it optimize transmission over the Internet. So companies may still need a content management system or a content delivery network service.

But where dynamic content is concerned, E-Gatematrix's Eads says he has no complaints. "When I'm pulling down the shopping cart containing Delta's ground manuals 30 to 40 pages the first time, it can take two to three minutes," says Eads. "That's now down to about five seconds using FineGround."

The installation required a day of demonstration and testing, followed by one day of an engineer's time. "We're seeing a 371 percent improvement in response time," says Eads.

FineGround Networks

Web: www.fineground.com.

Niche: Web content-acceleration server software optimizes SSL traffic and dynamic Web page content.

Company officers: - Nat Kausik, president and CEO - Jay Jawahar, vice president of engineering - Kevin Kirksey, vice president of sales - Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing.

Milestones: - February 2001: Company and Condenser technology launched. - May 2001: SSL acceleration added. - September 2001: Condenser 3.0 released.

Burn money: US$21.3 million from New Enterprise Associates, Worldview Technology Partners and private investors, including $16.5 million in July 2001.

Products/pricing: $50,000 per server CPU.

Customers: Multex.com Inc., E-Gatematrix, Hilton Hotels Corp., People's Bank Corp., United Rentals Inc. and Keen Inc.

Red flags for IT: - Faster display of dynamic page updates won't help if page-generation process is the bottleneck. - Technology is complementary to, not a replacement for, content delivery networks.

Fast Caching in The Slow Lane

The current economic slowdown both helps and hurts companies like FineGround, says Greg Howard, an analyst at The HTRC Group. "There's hardly any new spending for added infrastructure, [but] you have to manage increasing capacity demands with what you have, and that means using technology that caches content in one form or another," says Howard.

The benefits of personalized and dynamic content aren't available from traditional content-delivery service offerings like those from Akamai Technologies Inc. Companies that offer content delivery services typically cache only static objects such as logos and icons. Cambridge, Mass.-based Akamai uses XML as a core element to build pages dynamically from its edge servers, but this requires users to rewrite content to take advantage of Akamai's XML hooks. That leaves Web site administrators who need the benefits of dynamic Web page caching with offerings from a few smaller vendors.

Pivia

www.pivia.com.

Pivia's Dynamic Application Caching service accelerates loading of frequently accessed content strings, specifically database queries. Pivia focuses on caching at the Web server, while FineGround focuses on the browser.

Fireclick

www.fireclick.com.

Fireclick offers its Netflame dynamic caching as a software product or as a hosted service. It uses predictive caching and works by forwarding cached data to the end user's browser in anticipation of the next page request. The predictive technology requires an 8KB Java applet on the client.

CacheFlow

www.cacheflow.com.

CacheFlow's cIQ offers reverse-proxy-caching server appliances that accelerate the delivery of static, dynamic and streaming media content.

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