Case Study: Caching Software Makes Modem Speeds Bearable

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CIO Robert Eads is a satisfied customer -- and he almost can't believe it.

"In this era where most of the technology is hyped and doesn't work as promised, it was a breath of fresh air to see something that does."

Eads, CIO of Atlanta-based E-Gatematrix, is talking about an Internet caching solution from startup FineGround Networks Inc. The company adopted FineGround's Condenser software last year with dramatic results. Eads says his customers, most of whom use dial up modems, are seeing from 260% to more than 300% improvement in response time depending on the type of Web page being accessed and content.

The Condenser is designed to accelerate end-to-end delivery of dynamic content, embedded objects and secure transactions by delivering the most relevant content to the end user at the highest speed. FineGround says the Condenser accelerates performance up to 10x with guaranteed optimization.

E-Gatematrix provides catering and flight services to all Delta flights using 30 subcontractors located throughout the route structure of Atlanta-based airline. Since the information changes constantly -- E-Gatematrix provides 54,000 meals a day at about 180 domestic catering locations -- the online system has to quickly serve up new data on dynamic Web pages without compromising download and response times.

Pre-FineGround, users might scroll through as many as 10 to 15 screens of data for a day's worth of flights to find that only two or three items had actually changed on each page. Doing this operation on a 56k connection was maddeningly long for the users.

"FineGround proved to be better than we had hoped for," says Eads. "We are running six to 10 seconds, versus about 2 minutes plus per page under the old system. A user might pull down a 200 line item P.O. (purchase order) of eight to ten pages, but the information on that order guide typically hasn't changed since it was last viewed, and she just wants to enter a quantity. In other words, there isn't that much new information, but before we had to receive and send the whole file each time like new and it was a slow process."

The Condenser's "Delta Optimization" technology (no connection to Delta Airlines), transmits only the data that has changed since the previous view to the end user; the rest of the information is in the system's local cache memory for fast access. "People will come to web site only if it's fast. Studies back that up. When response time is more than 30 seconds per screen users won't use the system; they might even go back to phones and faxes," says Zack Urlocker, VP of Marketing at FineGround.

Seamless Installation

As a server-based installation, Eads was relieved he didn't have to upgrade his customer's desktops when E-Gatematrix switched to FineGround. "The move was transparent to them except that they immediately noticed the increased response time and asked why everything was coming up so much quicker," says Eads. "I am not dealing with DP shops, but kitchens and suppliers who have been using fax machines. For them, the Web is still new. The only thing we had to do was move them to Internet Explorer 5.5 for 128-bit encryption."

For E-Gatematrix's supply chain application the company assigned a single engineer to handle the installation of the Condenser which took less than a week before it was live and in production. "It was up and running the first day, we just had some issues with our load balancers, otherwise that would have been it," recalls Eads.

The company services some 735 named users with as many as 80 concurrently. The Condenser, which runs on Linux, was installed on two fault tolerant servers linked to 27 clustered Compaq NT servers.

While E-Gatematrix was happy to speed up its customer's response time, the move to FineGround paid dividends directly for the company. "Now I don't have to invest in T1 class lines and redundant sites which is a huge expense," says Eads.

Going forward Eads expects to license more of Fineground's software. "We are in the process of several more airline sign ups and that means more volume into our site," says Eads. "And I have to guarantee three to eight second response time because time is crucial for everyone."

FineGround also plans to expand. "We see ourselves as a platform for acceleration of all Web-based applications in the enterprise," says Urlocker. "We will include acceleration of wireless and Web services and optimize for the user depending on what kind of device they have. If I know they have a Pocket PC I will be able to optimize and take advantage of that type of CPU and connection."

Freelance writer David Needle lives in Silicon Valley and has covered high technology for leading publications for more than 20 years (see www.davidneedle.com for more information).

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