Users accelerate Web sites with caching products

WWW doesn’t really stand for “world wide wait” but the stereotype is probably based in fact.

“The biggest complaint about using the Web is its slow speed,” said David Strom, an Internet industry analyst in Port Washington, N.Y.

And as more people get high-speed Internet access, they’re likely to blame delays on a site’s owner. The problem is serious for business-to-business marketplaces and worse in the business-to-consumer arena, where people won’t wait for a slow page. So speeding up Web sites is an imperative.

Here are a few useful tips on how to speed up your site, with advice from some users.

Highly-graphical Web pages can be effective, but large files make for long downloads. Modern compression techniques can often make a graphic smaller by an order of magnitude, with little or no visible quality degradation. Also, subdividing complex graphics into several smaller files can cut downloading times.

Consider navigation: how do visitors find what they’re looking for on a site? Clearly marked and labelled links ease the task, while confusing pointers or buttons add frustration and misdirection.

Good design is necessary but not sufficient. For a high volume of transactions, you need massive computing power: lots of servers and good Web connections. But if a site provides a lot of images or other large-file content, it makes sense to distribute those servers around the country or the world. An enterprise can do this without maintaining multiple physical server sites by using a distributed service, such as one offered by Akamai Technologies Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Companies can also use dedicated caching server hardware and software from vendors such as CacheFlow Inc. and Network Appliance Inc., both in Sunnyvale, Calif. If you do opt for external caching, make sure your content is synchronized at all the cache sites. Here’s how some e-commerce sites have used caching to speed up their sites:

San Diego-based opted to install specialized caching servers to improve its Web site’s performance. Yoshio Kurtz, ProFlowers’ director of research and development, notes, “We figured that for every CacheFlow appliance we installed, we would have had to implement four or five additional Web servers to see similar performance gains. And because [these servers] require little maintenance and run their own operating system, we have avoided the significant labour costs [of] implementing so many new Web servers.”

To prepare for last year’s holiday season, in Denver upgraded its infrastructure by deploying CacheFlow appliances in front of its e-commerce site and outside the firewall. This cut the time needed to deliver full pages to customers and lightened the load on its servers and firewall. CacheFlow servers store and serve the content users most frequently request and monitor the source pages behind the firewall for content changes.

Srikant Srinivasan, founder and CEO of, said, “Since we upgraded our technology infrastructure, response time for content has been reduced substantially.”

Delayed response is magnified if your site delivers streaming audio or video. Strategies to deal with streaming media problems include multiple caching (either within your site or via an external network), “overflow” servers and satellite transmission.

If streaming normal video presents a problem, then consider high-definition television (HDTV) broadcast over an IP network. San Jose, Calif.-based Inc. has products that try to tackle those problems at both the client and server ends. David Hurwit, director of the Convergence Lab at 3Com Corp., one of 2netFX’s partners in developing this technology, said HDTV over IP will enhance dot-com applications and services.

That’s music to some people’s ears. Thomas MacCalla, chief operating officer at the Entertainment Technology Center, a consortium of movie studios and technology companies, said, “Many of us in the entertainment community and academia have been eagerly anticipating this day.”

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