January 9, 1998 12:40 PM PST

Start-up offers proactive caching

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CacheFlow, a start-up with impressive executive talent, is hoping that its system for speeding up Web access through a unique caching method can bear fruit in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

The Palo Alto, California-based company's first offering--the CacheFlow 1000--includes a function-specific operating system that is dedicated to caching and updating Web pages locally so that users do not have to wait for downloads from across the Net, a process often dubbed the "World Wide Wait."

Using caching technology to speed up Web access is a growing industry trend, as reported recently by CNET's NEWS.COM. A glut of hardware and software caching systems are entering the market from the likes of heavyweights Cisco Systems, Intel, Network Appliance, and Sun Microsystems.

In fact, Michael Malcom, one of the founders of Network Appliance--a fast-growing dedicated systems company--will serve as chairman and CEO of CacheFlow, adding luster to the company's cause.

In a recent study, Forrester Research found that 91 percent of 50 Fortune 1,000 companies interviewed for the survey will deploy a network-based caching system within two years. More than 50 percent said they were deploying caching mechanisms now.

"Caching is becoming more important because the Internet itself is becoming more important," said Brendan Hannigan, an analyst with Forrester.

Unlike other caching systems, CacheFlow's software can download updates of popular Web pages before they are requested, according to the company, minimizing use of the often snail-like Web infrastructure.

CacheFlow hopes to differentiate itself by promoting an "active cache" technology that allows a user to click on a Web site like CNET's and receive updated content at 10 times the speed of other caching systems, according to company executives.

"The user response time is going to be the big deal," according to Bruce Robertson, program director for global networking strategies at the Meta Group. "As more and more businesses have Web interfaces, they will gain more and more benefits."

The technology takes a browser request and speeds up the downloading of Web objects such as graphics or frames, minimizing the back-and-forth communication between a local browser and a faraway server computer. It also stores more static elements of Web pages such as link buttons to other content.

Using the abundance of disk space in the hardware, the box also automatically stores and periodically retrieves Web site updates once a user clicks on a site. This differs from other caching approaches that focus on bandwidth conservation, according to company executives and analysts.

"Passive caching, by definition, is not the recipe for speed," Kelly Herrell, vice president of marketing, said.

The box, which supports about 500 concurrent users, is available now with prices starting at $39,500. It includes TI, T3, and local 100-mbps (megabits per second) Ethernet connections.

 

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