High-end ecommerce users have been quick to adopt new caching technologies and are even starting to outsource their caching infrastructure. And traditional companies are also beginning to deploy caching devices to accelerate their intranet and internet access.
Caching technology enables customers to store web content locally on their servers. Forward caching technology stores downloaded internet content for reuse within a given user group, such as employees, while reverse caching actively pushes out a company's web content to a diverse group of remote users, such as customers.
Reverse caching is gaining in popularity with ecommerce firms because pushing web pages to customers ensures a fast service, even if those customers do not use caching technology themselves. But to undertake reverse caching effectively, web page owners need to set up an infrastructure that is local to their users, wherever they happen to be in the world.
As a result, vendors are starting to outsource such infrastructure to content delivery service providers (CDSP), such as Akamai or Speedera. These companies already have a network of cache servers and offer worldwide reverse caching services that range in price from £2300 to £3700 per site per month.
Eugene Forrester, marketing manager for web acceleration products at Novell in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said that if reverse caching is to work for them, companies need to sign up with CDSPs that can provide their users with a URL pointer to the nearest caching server that stores a mirrored version of their site.
"Outsourcing to a CDSP is interesting for large content aggregators that create eight per cent of the entire internet content, or ecommerce companies with a dispersed audience like CNN," he said.
At the more traditional end of the market, caching is taking off because network managers are starting to discover that the technology can become a better investment than network hardware.
Dan Warmerhoven, Network Appliance's chief executive, said: "They are only beginning to become aware of how this technique could boost the amount of traffic they can handle, and cut response times."
A small investment
A caching appliance that can deal with up to 1000 users from providers such as Network Appliance or Novell costs about £3500.
Steve Hanlon, chief technical strategist at internet incubator Pregenesis, said: "Though our own user base consists of only 10 people, I considered making this tiny investment because even small caching appliances offer improved quality."
Alan McDonald, network services manager at Stirling Council, implemented a Dell PowerEdge 1300B server with Novell internet caching software last year, when he found out that caching technology was required to run virus scans.
"It took 10 minutes to install the black box through the TCP/IP connection and we haven't looked at it since. We have a cache hit rate of 38 per cent and feedback is that internet access is very fast," he said.
McDonald added that the use of caching has increased the speed of the network, including access to non-cached items, even though Stirling Council's user base has more than tripled.
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