Caching, Content Delivery Evolve

SAN MATEO (02/04/2000) - WITH INTERNET users clamoring for faster Web site performance, the benefits of caching and content delivery are becoming more attractive to service providers and enterprises that realize a slow online response means fewer customers.

To hasten this trend, caching and content delivery providers such as Network Appliance, Novell, Inktomi, and Akamai are working on features such as personalization, streaming media support, and support for dynamic content.

Caching technology speeds up site performance, frees up bandwidth, and lowers connection costs by storing often-requested objects in a cache at the edge of the network, reducing network traffic.

"The fact is, it takes good caching to have good performance, and good performance is what it takes to keep people coming back," said George Peabody, managing director of telecommunications research at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston. "We're still going to need caching in the broadband network, because every time there's more bandwidth available we figure out a richer way to use it and fill it up."

Network Appliance, which recently released the NetCache 4.1 Streaming Media appliance, plans to help network service providers deliver services, including content filtering and virus scanning, via the NetCache appliance.

Novell is also working on multimedia caching for Novell Internet Caching System (ICS) devices and expects to add personalization features to specialize content based on device and user profiles or information stored in a directory, turning ICS into a full-service platform.

The next iteration of ICS will have an open API framework, giving developers and users access to "in the flow" content service.

"Because you're at the application layer, you can actually identify what that application is -- FTP or streaming audio, for example -- and you can get within the application and do specific things to it" such as filtering content based on URLs or which media streams people may access, said Patrick Harr, director of product management at Novell.

Inktomi will also add services such as content access reporting at the edge of the network for service providers.

"In the ISP space, [what's big] really is the notion of value-added services," said Ed Haslam, Inktomi's director of product management. "Right now, people are laying basic foundations. Content really is just the first stepping-stone."

Inktomi will continue to target enterprise companies, a field Haslam called a "huge opportunity, potentially larger than the ISP space." Haslam also expects to see the storage of digital goods and transaction executions take place at the network edge in the future.

Content delivery is also making a splash, as companies realize the benefits of using a network of servers to distribute Web content to the network edge and out to users. The service often goes hand-in-hand with caching, analysts said.

"I think that over time, lots more of the function of the Web site will migrate out to the edges ... and cache just happens to be the first step on that pathway," said Peter Christy, vice president of the Internet Research Group, in Los Altos, Calif.

Rob Carney, vice president of Adero, a content management company, agreed.

"A big portion of our business is turning caching into a service, making it a little more intelligent, a little more directed, but essentially ... putting the control of caching into the hands of the content provider," said Carney.

Adero adds a second layer of intelligent routing to caching services and "distributed mirroring" capabilities so a content publisher can push content out to Adero's network at their own chosen intervals. Carney said Adero is working on moving more "dynamically generated content" and commerce applications to the edge.

Akamai is planning to deliver applications over its network, leveraging its FreeFlow content delivery service and EdgeAdvantage platform, which lets third parties plug into Akamai's network to offer value-added services, said Kieran Taylor, senior product manager at Akamai. Akamai will not create or host the applications, however.

A beta version of the application delivery service is expected in the first half of 2000, with general release during the latter half.

Network Appliance Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., is at www.netapp.com. Novell Inc., in Provo, Utah, is at www.novell.com. Inktomi Corp., in Foster City, Calif., is at www.inktomi.com. Akamai Technologies Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., is at www.akamai.com. Adero Inc., in Boston, is at www.adero.com.

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