Caching Technology Gives Web Pages a Push

Fireclick accelerates page load times by caching them to users' browsers

One of the constant challenges online fashion retailer Bluefly Inc. faces is ensuring that its graphics-heavy Web pages are delivered to site visitors as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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Stephane Kasriel (left) and Xavier Casanova developed caching technology to accelerate Web content delivery.

Fireclick Inc.

289 South San Antonio Road Los Altos, Calif. 94022 (650) 917-7600

Web: www.fireclick.com

Niche: Accelerates Web content delivery over the Internet through local browser caching

Company officers: Ram Srinivasan, president and CEO; Stephane Kasriel, chief technology officer and co-founder; Xavier Casanova, co-founder

Milestones: June 1999: Company founded March 2000: Blueflame introduced January 2001: Secured $13.5 million in Series C funding

Burn money: $25.5 million from Cisco Systems Inc., Menlo Ventures, Atlas Venture and Thomas Weisel Partners LLC

Employees: 35

Products/pricing: Blueflame and Netflame product fees are based on the number of sessions accelerated per month by the service, beginning at $2,000 per month.

Customers: Victoria's Secret, Fool.com, Akamai Technologies and Franklin Covey Co.

Partners: Akamai, Hewlett-Packard Co., Cisco, Mercury Interactive Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and F5 Networks

Red flags for IT: The product works best when used with other acceleration technologies. Growing adoption of broadband may reduce the need for last-mile acceleration of Web content.

The New York-based company sells big-name labels at deep discounts and depends on the speed, richness and personalization of its Web content to attract and retain customers.

That's why just before the Christmas shopping season last year, Bluefly signed on with Fireclick Inc., a Los Altos, Calif.-based firm that specializes in accelerating content delivery to the end user.

Founded in 1999 by three Stanford University engineers, the 35-person company uses a patented predictive-caching technology to download content to a user's browser before the user requests it.

The technology can dramatically speed up the rate at which pages - especially graphics-laden ones - can be served up to users, says Andreas Turanski, vice president of technology at Bluefly.

"They've helped make our delivery a heck of a lot better and made our customers a lot happier, as far as we can tell," by sharply reducing page download times, he says. Since deploying the technology, the average order size of Bluefly customers has increased substantially, Turanski says.

Faster Last Mile

With Fireclick's products, Web sites can handle more traffic with less hardware while delivering content up to 10 times faster, claims Ram Srinivasan, the company's president and CEO.

"We provide a service that accelerates content delivery over the last mile of the Internet," he says. Traditionally, it's this connection between the Internet service provider and customers that has been the slowest, Srinivasan explains.

Fireclick sells its technology both as a product, Blueflame, and as a service, Netflame. They run on both Windows- and Sun Solaris-based Web servers. At their core is a caching capability that combines real-time clickstream data with probability analysis to predict the content a user is likely to request.

When a user is reading a page on a Blueflame-enabled Web site, a small Java applet preloads content from the site to the user's browser for fast retrieval, based on an analysis of previous usage patterns.

Most content-delivery technologies and services focus on Web server caching or use edge servers to move frequently requested content, such as company logos, closer to the end user's machine.

But they stop short of proactively prefetching content as Fireclick's offerings do, says Michael Hoch, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc.

"In that sense, Fireclick is unique in what it does," says Neil Goldman, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

Team Player

Fireclick's technology works best when used in tandem with other caching and content-distribution technologies, according to Hoch. That's why Fireclick has partnered with companies such as Cambridge, Mass.-based Akamai Technologies Inc. and Seattle-based F5 Networks Inc.

As broadband technologies such as cable and Digital Subscriber Lines begin to gain wider adoption within the next few years, there won't be as clear-cut a case for services such as Fireclick's, analysts say. But that hasn't stopped investors, who provided an infusion of $13.5 million in funding in January, bringing total capital investment in the start-up to $25 million.

Fireclick hasn't yet turned a profit, but it plans to sell increasingly to Internet service and hosting providers who can rebrand and resell its technology as a value-added service.

"We have been hit by the economic downturn, as you might expect," Srinivasan says. "But we believe we have something that is absolutely necessary for accelerating content over the Internet."

The Buzz: State of the Market

Last-Mile Leader

Fireclick may be unique in the way it speeds "last mile" content delivery by caching pages to users' desktops, but other vendors also offer technologies that improve Web performance.

Vendors of content caching technologies and distribution services specialize in moving content over the so-called first and middle miles of the Internet to the edge of the network, where end users can quickly access it.

In that sense, "Fireclick is complementary to a lot of technologies out there," says Michael Hoch, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc. Fireclick won't help performance if the bottleneck resides at the Web server; it works best when deployed along with Web server caching and other content distribution technologies, he says.

Packeteer Inc.

Cupertino, Calif.

www.packeteer.com

The company's AppCelera application acceleration servers use compression and caching to speed the transfer and display of Web content. Packeteer also sells a range of traffic, bandwidth and application service management tools.

CacheFlow Inc.

Sunnyvale, Calif.

www.cacheflow.com

CacheFlow's Edge Accelerator stores frequently accessed Web content in separate cache servers. The cache responds directly to user requests for content. If the content is stored in the cache, it's served directly to the user. Otherwise, the accelerator fetches the content from the origin server, downloads it and then stores the content in cache.

Chutney Technologies Inc.

Atlanta

www.chutneytech.com

Its PreLoader product is designed to reduce server-side delays resulting from the dynamic generation of Web pages. It caches content at a component level, whether it's product prices, product descriptions or top news stories. The technology combines a caching engine, a cache replacement scheme and integrated monitoring and reporting tools.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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