Speeding dynamic content

Speeding the delivery of dynamically generated content grabbed the spotlight at the Content Delivery Networks (CDN) Conference in New York this week, with several vendors showcasing appliances intended to accelerate on-demand delivery of dynamic Web content.

Dynamic content, which is used to create personalized Web pages specific to individual users, is generated from queries that are issued to back-end data sources such as application servers or databases.

Because of an increased use of personalized Web pages, many vendors are moving to address dynamic caching bottlenecks, said Michael Hoch, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston.

"Dynamic content is getting a lot of attention now, because while streaming [media] was flashy last year it has not really taken off as a source of revenue for enterprises," Hoch said. "Whereas there is more of a direct return on dynamic content, you can have personalization, which leads to customer retention, customer conversion, and all those high-touch kinds of interactions."

Dynamic caching vendor SpiderCache Inc. at the show released Version 1.5 of its SpiderCache product for both Unix and Windows NT. Enhancements include an Optimum Clear Cache feature that allows selective cache clearing on the basis of specific changes from a source file. A finer grain of control over clearing the contents of a cache helps invalidate stale cache content and alleviates the load on the Web server, according to Greg Parker, CEO and president of SpiderCache in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Other improvements to Version 1.5 include automatic monitoring of Web application changes that can trigger cache clearing, a configuration wizard designed to simplify installation, and an Image Optimization feature that reduces the size of images to increase delivery speed.

Dynamic content is becoming an increasingly common component of Web sites, but the retrieval of customized content can drain Web performance, according to Parker.

"People are moving away from static Web sites to dynamic content-driven sites, and that exposes the bottleneck [dynamic content] causes," Parker said. "[Traditional caches] can't handle the performance required for the speed of delivery of dynamic content."

Also addressing dynamic content acceleration, Chutney Technologies Inc. introduced its Chutney PreLoader Version 2.0, which is designed to cache and deliver dynamic page components that can be reused across multiple user sessions. Examples include product prices and features, top news stories, and weather reports.

Also on hand at the show XCache announced XCache 2.0, software designed to improve performance and scalability of a variety of file types, including streaming media, static and dynamic content, database-driven pages, and images. According to officials at the Bellingham, Wash.-based company, new features in XCache 2.0 make it easy for Web administrators to prepare personalized database-dependent Web pages for caching.

Cachier debuted the Cachier 1000, a dynamic caching device with a customized Linux operating system that intercepts HTTP requests before they reach the Web server. The Cachier 1000 features an HTTP cache invalidation database engine that enables users to control what content is cached from the back-end database.

Hewlett-Packard and Inktomi formed an alliance to develop three edge and server caching and streaming media appliances. As part of the agreement, Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP will embed Inktomi's Traffic Server and Traffic Server Media-IXT software into customized HP Netservers. The resulting products -- the HP Web Cache SA 2100, the HP Web Cache SA 2200, and the HP Media Cache SA 2250 -- will speed content delivery by maximizing bandwidth and by off-loading tasks from critical servers, according to officials at the companies. The products are expected to begin shipping in the second quarter.

The alliance with HP is expected to help Inktomi expand its presence in the enterprise market, according to Kevin Brown, vice president of marketing for network products at Inktomi.

"Inktomi has been very strong in the carrier space, and we are just now getting into the enterprise space," Brown said.

"First, carrier networks felt the pain of how to scale up, how to handle traffic spikes, and how to make networks smarter," Brown added. "Now this pain is extending to enterprises. Enterprises are feeling the same challenges: It's not just a few people going out to the Web, but everyone in the company; and that is combined with the increase in Webcasts and online sales presentations," Brown said. "[The Internet] is starting to scale up and become part of the mission-critical business."

Frank Harbist, general manager of server alliances at HP, said the alliance will allow HP to broaden and strengthen its line of server appliances.

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