Project Management

Boosting site performance, user experience doesn't have to cost big bucks

Your Web development team has thrown big bucks at improving site performance, but load times are still slow, and customers and users are still complaining. Learn how a new acceleration tool can speed load time without busting your budget.


The Web development team has hooked in caching devices, plugged in load-balancing switches, and even integrated content delivery networks to improve Web site performance and page load times. A lot of money has been spent, but page loading still isn’t optimum, and users are complaining about slow downloads.

This sort of effort has been a major mission for many CIOs this past year, but with most companies' tighter budgets, overcoming the big clog in performance bottlenecks—that slow last-mile user connection—hasn’t been easy.

In this article, I'll tell you about a product that one company has chosen to help with its last-mile connectivity issues.

Software that gives the needed boost
If everyone were connected to the Internet via corporate T1 lines or home cable modem or even DSL services, last-mile performance issues would be severely minimized. But, as companies now realize, that’s not the case. In many parts of the world, 56K modems are king, and Web site visitors typically connect at much lower speeds thanks to the poor quality of the telephone line.

“One of our major challenges was to overcome slow Web connections to our worldwide customers,” said Linda Bennett, CIO at supply chain management company UTi Worldwide Inc., in Rancho Dominguez, CA.

UTi is a global business, with more than 400 offices worldwide, that recorded over $863 million in revenues for fiscal year 2001. Its services include freight forwarding, customs brokerage, and warehousing services.

Because of last-mile performance issues, companies like UTi are turning to relatively newer (as compared to caching, load-balancing switches, and content delivery networks) Web acceleration technologies to improve performance. One of those solutions, and the one chosen by UTi, is BoostWeb, a Web acceleration software package from San Francisco-based BoostWorks Inc.

Why UTi chose BoostWeb
To support its services, UTi developed a Web application that lets customers track shipments. But because the company has an international clientele with some customers in Africa, for example, that use slow-speed satellite links to access the Internet, transmission speed was critical.

BoostWeb provided a strong transmission-time solution because it intelligently reduces, and then compresses, the data sent to an end user. This cuts the download time of a Web page, which allows UTi to provide its users with "superior response times," Bennett explained.

BoostWeb is a server-only product, which was also an important factor in UTi’s product choice. “Having worldwide offices, we could never consider a solution requiring client-based software,” said Bennett.

The software does not require changes or adjustments to existing systems or to the network, which was another plus for UTi. “BoostWeb is invisible to our applications, network, and end users,” said Bennett. “It has significantly improved our application performance without an expensive network upgrade.”

Data and graphic file compression
BoostWeb can either sit in front of a Web server so that all requests directed at that server, or group of servers, pass through the server running the software, or it can be set up as a proxy server, where traffic destined for a particular URL is first directed to the BoostWeb server.

In either deployment scenario, when BoostWeb receives a user request for a specific Web page, the software analyzes information in the HTTP header to determine what browser is in use.

As BoostWeb is a server-only product, it doesn’t use any special client software, plug-ins, or downloads. Instead, it relies on the inherent compression technology built into a browser. So the user's choice of browser determines which compression algorithms BoostWeb uses on Web page text, HTML code, JavaScripts, graphics, and images.

BoostWorks claims compression can shrink the data amount for text, HTML code, and JavaScripts by up to 75 to 95 percent. (If you’re interested in testing this, BoostWorks' home page will let you submit a corporate Web page for free analysis and will determine how much your site’s pages can be compressed. To try it, visit: http://www.boostworks.com/freetest/index.php3#form.)

The software also reduces the file size of graphics before any compression is applied. The company says it can reduce GIF, JPEG, and PNG files to one-tenth to one-half of the original file size by using one or more of several techniques, such as merging similar colors in a GIF file into one color.

Bennett said that the software also performs a GIF-to-JPEG conversion to reduce the size of some files. For instance, the file size of photos initially saved as GIF files would actually be much smaller if converted into JPEG files. BoostWorks claims this process reduces file size by about 30 percent and does not impede the visual results.

All of BoostWeb’s features help reduce the data that needs to be sent to a user for Web site loading. While it improves download times for any speed Internet connection, the results are much more significant on slower dial-up links, where the last-mile performance problem is the most noticeable.

BoostWeb 4.0 is available now and priced at $17,500 per CPU; quantity discounts are available. For more information, visit BoostWorks' Web site.

What are you using to speed page and graphic load times?
Share your experience with other performance tools that don’t break the pocketbook by writing to us or starting a discussion.

 

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