Interview: Fine-tuning Web app performance

FineGround Networks provides tools that help accelerate the performance of Web applications. As IT organizations move to adopt wireless devices and applications that leverage Web services, the need to actively manage latency across the network becomes paramount. In partial recognition of that fact, IBM Corp. recently announced a pact with FineGround concerning support for its WebSphere application server. FineGround Networks CEO Nat Kausik explains why customers such as Whirlpool and SwissAir are turning to his company to accelerate the performance of enterprise applications built for the Web.

Q: How does FineGround work?

Kausik: It sits as a transparent proxy between the application server and it typically sits right in front of the application server. It looks at successive visits to the same or related sets of URLs, and rather than sending you the entire page at each visit, it compares the second page to the first page and it only sends those data elements that have changed. It transmits those data elements that have changed to your browser in such a form that the browser can take the old page from its cache and reconstruct the new page from the old page.

Q: Most people rely on caching to improve performance. Why is this not enough?Kausik: Caching is great for static applications that don't change. But in a corporate or e-business application, everything changes and nothing can be cached. Therefore, cache is all but useless.

Q: How will the advent of handheld devices change application performance requirements?Kausik: BlackBerrys, for example, are something that every enterprise is trying to budget for at some time in the next three years. Those kinds of clients will bring in new performance problems and we will bring our technology to them. When you think about something that would really change your life, it is being able to reach anybody or be reached on the go. The cell phone is too primitive a device for anything meaningful. Every forward-thinking customer that we've talked to has expressed some interest in handheld wireless devices and applying our technology to that.

Q: Given the performance issues around Web services, where does Web services support fit into your future plans?Kausik: We had a customer who visited us the other day and really wanted to know whether we can provide a Web services interface for the product. When you think about it, we're offering an interface to an existing Web application that's transparent, so it can communicate better with low bandwidth or high-latency networks. We can just as well add a Web services interface to our product, which means that customers don't need to re-author their back end. They get the benefit of having Web services APIs for their application, so that certainly is something that we have on our road map.

Q: So beyond application acceleration, how can your software help IT organizations build better applications?Kausik: We see the content unencrypted. We do all these optimizations and then encrypt it. Independent of that, we can enhance all kinds of reporting and measurement functionalities. For example, all the logs now that the customer analyzes are analyzed from our product, rather than the application itself. So we could introduce ... Java script applets that the customer can use to enhance their reporting functionality. All those things can be done in a transparent fashion. Down the road in a future release, we will have performance measurement inside the box itself because it knows what it's sending to each user from the application and it can measure how long it took to deliver that. Those are not things we've built yet, but those are things that we have in mind.

- Michael Vizard is the editor in chief of InfoWorld.

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