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Accelerators cause headaches

Web accelerators--one of the hottest tools on the Internet--are supposed to make life easier for Net surfers, but they are causing some headaches for Web site operators.

Web accelerators--one of the hottest tools on the Internet--are supposed to make life easier for Net surfers, but they are causing some headaches for Web site operators, CNET has learned.

The problem could escalate too, as so-called "push" technology that retrieves information from servers based on a user's needs, takes hold throughout cyberspace, some experts said. The key will be the degree to which an intelligent agent is smart enough to get the right amount of information without bombarding the server with indiscriminate requests. Product managers remain confident they can manage the problem, but some Web site operators aren't so sure.

A product called Peak Net.Jet, sold by Peak Technologies for $29.95, has run into criticism for overloading servers with too many requests for data. For users, the products saves time by automatically downloading all text of each link shown on a page that is being viewed.

But what's good for the end user apparently is not always good for the Webmaster.

"Basically, it downloads tons of pages that the user might want before he or she clicks on a link, so pages get called in rapid-fire mode, bringing the server to its knees and slowing down responses for hundreds of other users using conventional browsers," complained one Web site operator to CNET. "There's a song and dance about how wonderful it is, when in fact, it's a disaster in the making."

Peak Technologies president Doug Foster confirmed that the company had received complaints about the impact of the product on Web sites. He identified a company called Internet Movie Database as one of them. That site has banned the use of Net.Jet.

Some pages on the Internet Movie Database have some 700 links, said Rob Hartill, the Web administrator for the site. But chances are that a user might only want to go at ten links at most, even though all of them are being automatically downloaded by products such as Net.Jet, he said. The result: "Everyone else suffers from a potential slowdown," he said.

Foster also said Web operators at the Los Alamos National Laboratory had expressed concern about the product clogging its server. As a result, Foster said the laboratory has turned off NetJet access to the site. He denied that Net.Jet was no threat to the lab's site.

The product, he maintained, is not indiscriminate about automatically downloading sites; it only retreives those that conform to the user's surfing habits.

But Brent Pulver, investor relations manager for Peak admitted, "They're getting a bit choked. Our product is pulling too much information off their servers."

Foster said the company is working with Internet Movie Database to resolve the problem. Possible solutions could include "exempting or omitting" where the so-called look-ahead tools can go or bundling the information that is sent from the server.

But Hartill says Net.Jet has not been much help. "I sent them mail a week ago and they haven't replied," he said. The Web accelerators also can have another unintended consequence: If the pages being cached are not read, ad delivery statistics can be incorrect.

According to Foster, "What we're doing is pushing the boundaries a little bit. We're not alone in doing that."

Examples, he said, are crawlers, intelligent agents, and offline browsers that use bandwidth to retrieve information, sometimes while a user is sleeping.

"What all of us companies are inventing and creating may be perceived in two ways: Are we creating a problem or are we headed toward a resolution for better performance?" Foster said.

Foster stressed that Peak was working to make sure the products' impact on Web sites is minimized. "We plan to work with ISPs for how to enhance and reduce impact on the server side," he said.