Metcalfe's column: Inktomi offers an open platform for Internet apps

Inktomi is a rapidly growing Internet company that will soon be getting that dreaded call from Microsoft.

"Hello, I'm Microsoft's next twenty-something hotshot. I'd like to come get briefed on your technology. We're announcing something similar next Tuesday. We hear your technology is great, in which case you can let us bundle it free with Windows. Or maybe we'll buy you out. Or maybe we'll pre-emptively announce, ineptly develop, eventually ship, and anticompetitively bundle our own version. Whatever. How about Monday?"

Inktomi's founders started the company in 1996 with scalable caching software for huge Web sites. Then they grew the company's scalable service for Web searching. Inktomi (, located in San Mateo, California, went public in 1998, now has 400 employees, and is adding over 100 more each quarter. Recently, it got into shopping and directories. All for Internet service providers and portals.

Now, with @Home, America Online, Yahoo, and other huge players as customers, Inktomi is opening up to become a platform for Web application development. And attention, readers: Inktomi is getting ready to call on you -- corporate information systems managers.

Microsoft's monopoly is based on development platforms for corporate information systems. Being reflexively anticompetitive, Microsoft can't let Inktomi get a foothold in the market.

Inktomi CEO David Peterschmidt doesn't admit to fears about the dreaded phone call from Microsoft. He points to existing relationships. Internet Explorer implements the Web Proxy Auto Discovery protocol developed by Inktomi. Inktomi's query service is behind Microsoft Network. And Inktomi's software, which runs mostly on flavours of Unix, but not Linux, is now available for Windows NT.

Peterschmidt is hoping to get Microsoft to develop NetShow caching on Inktomi's Traffic Server platform. This initiative is the one likely to draw Microsoft's dreaded attention.

Inktomi's platform is shaping up nicely. It has four huge data centres that offer Internet services for a fraction of a penny per click. It has 2000 Traffic Servers licensed by the processor.

The data centres crawl the Web and respond to search queries from huge portals. Peterschmidt says one of these data centres is 0.4km of Sun Ultra IIs colocated at Exodus (

But look in a different way at Inktomi's traffic servers and data centres. See them as a platform open to Internet application developers.

To expedite its video streams, RealNetworks has developed caching software for Inktomi servers. Peterschmidt says his highly scalable Internet platform will support many applications, such as filtering, advertising, billing, and transformation.

Remember, PCs got their start as software platforms, such as the Apple II and Macintosh, that were open "upwardly" -- they provided programming interfaces to support many competing application developers.

PCs and their servers then flourished with DOS and Windows, which are open both upwardly and "downwardly" -- they run on a wide variety of competing hardware platforms.

And then there's Linux, which is open upwardly, downwardly, and "inwardly" -- the platform itself, unlike Macintosh and Windows, can be offered by competing platform suppliers.

Those were for PCs. Now we're looking for platforms that will underlie the post-PC Internet era. Inktomi's offering is a strong entry, open upwardly, downwardly, but not yet inwardly.

Many other Internet platforms will be based on XML in what Tim Berners-Lee calls the Semantic Web.

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973. He claims that Ethernet, like Linux, is upwardly, downwardly, and inwardly open. He welcomes comments about anything but Linux at

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