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Web services on the edge

What Quality of Service do you offer your Internet users? Are you happy with it? Could you provide it at a lower cost? A recent discussion Peter Abrahams of aware that on-demand edge-computing was a solution he had not evaluated.

Market Analysis

Web services on the edge
What Quality of Service do you offer your Internet users? Are you happy with it? Could you provide it at a lower cost? A recent discussion made me aware that on-demand edge-computing was a solution I had not evaluated.

Here are some measures of quality:

  • Is the service always there?
  • Is the response consistent and fast?
  • Do all users get the same QoS independent of location (US, UK, Hong Kong, China or Sweden)?
  • Can you cope with peaks?
  • Tyre-kicking browsers do not impact clients trying to buy product?
  • Can you support massive downloads any time your marketing department comes up with a new wheeze?

Do you know the answers to all these questions? Can you honestly answer in the affirmative to all of them?

If not, where is the problem? Is it the application, the application server, the database, the content delivery engine, the search engine, or the Internet itself?

The answer will undoubtedly be some combination of the above and maybe some other factors. The most difficult of these to control or influence is the Internet and particularly the number and quality of hops between your user and the centre. Simple; reduce the number and improve the quality and the issue disappears. IBM provide Edge-servers that will cache code, data and content, if these are inserted at strategic points on the web your clients will get a better service.

This is theoretically attractive but in most cases practically impossible. To be really effective you will need hundreds, nay thousands, of servers around the world to get close to your users. They need to be installed, maintained, operated, users need to be routed to the most effective edge server, fall back must be arranged and sufficient capacity for peaks must be available.

Cached data, content and applications, by definition are transitory. The source and especially the database will remain at the centre. The caches need know nothing about the applications; they just need to act like a utility providing a quality of service. This is the ideal scenario for an outsourcer to provide an on-demand cache and compute facility. They will be able to say yes to all the questions above. You will then be free to concentrate on providing and managing the content; as well as collecting and processing the orders.

There are several providers of this type of service and on-demand is very much the rage today, so is it likely to be a good investment. There are two scenarios to consider.

If a decision has already been made that the QoS is not good enough; then going to a provider with experience of the solution and the infrastructure in place must be better than trying to set it up from scratch.

If the present QoS is considered acceptable then the cost of the solution has to be compared to the potential benefit of an improved QoS to the clients and to the bottom line. It is very possible this case could also be made.

There is one further reason for considering this service. Unlike most outsourcing deals, the cost of entry is low, an initial contract plus some configuration files. Just as importantly the exit cost is low, reconfigure the files, stop using the service and stop the contract. Further, the configuration can cover more or less of your web presence with a bigger or smaller bill.

Akamai offer just such a service and is, probably, the leading player in the space along with Mirror-Image and a few others.

Copyright 2003. Originally published by, reprinted with permission. provides IT decision makers with free daily e-mails containing news analysis, member-only discussion forums, free research, technology spotlights and free on-line consultancy. To register for a free e-mail subscription, click here.

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