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Firm aims to speed content delivery

Sandpiper Networks launches a product that could compete with network caching products sold by the likes of Inktomi.

Network caching firm Inktomi may be about to get a run for its money.

After two years of research and development, a Los Angeles firm this week launched a product that promises high-volume Web publishers an improved online commute for their visitors.

Sandpiper Networks' flagship product, Footprint, acts much like the network caching products that Inktomi sells, putting copies of online content closer to users to minimize the time that information spends traversing the Internet.

"Footprint acts on some of the same principles of caching," said Sandpiper spokeswoman Michelle Balconi. "Some people want to know if we're going to take on Inktomi. But we employ a method of caching within our system, and see ourselves as possibly partnering with Inktomi or incorporating their technology."

Footprint has two components: servers called "content distributors," and software called a "content migrator." The migrator sits at the Web publisher's site, connecting it to a network of distributors placed at points of presence throughout the Internet.

When a Web surfer tries to access a file at a site that uses Footprint, the migrator reroutes that request to the distributor that will provide the fastest available service. Footprint determines what distributor that is by evaluating geographical distance between distributor to client, as well as network congestion.

One advantage Sandpiper claims to have over current caching technologies is that Footprint relays hit counts and other user metrics back to the publisher. A common complaint about caching is that because surfers access files from a different server than that of the content provider, traffic data may be skewed.

Coincidentally, Inktomi had a product launch of its own this week, version 2.0 of its Traffic Server caching system.

The updated Traffic Server meets exactly the same demands that Footprint does, according to Inktomi.

"The bottom line is that what Traffic Server 2.0 does is let any Web hosting provider do the same thing as Footprint," said Inktomi spokesperson Kevin Brown.

While Traffic Server 1.0 was designed to work at the level of the access provider, Version 2.0 "sits at the corners of the hosting backbone and intercepts requests from anywhere in the network and serves them directly from the cache," Brown said.

The new Traffic Server also introduced more comprehensive logging and support for integration with billing systems, according to Brown.

As for its launch, Footprint already has made some tracks. Thirty-two of its distributors sit at 16 POPs so far, and Sandpiper counts as a client the Los Angeles Times, which is using Footprint to serve the Starr report. Other beta customers include E Online, Exodus Communications, Packard Bell NEC, and Netopia.