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Start-up offers to speed Web services

Upstart Netli is offering big companies a service that it says will substantially speed up corporate Web-based applications--and it's already attracted a few blue-chip customers.

A new start-up is offering big companies a service it says will substantially speed up corporate Web-based applications--and it's already attracted a few blue-chip customers.

Netli, a 3-year-old Silicon Valley company, is trying to do for global companies' Web-based applications what Akamai Technologies and other content delivery networks have done for Web page downloads and streaming media caught in network congestion. The Web's basic technologies are fine for surfing but were not built for complicated, interactive applications such as high-end e-commerce, customer support database applications, and other Web services, Netli contends.

"What we're trying to do is help companies take advantage of the good things about the Internet and fix a couple things that have been problematic, such as response time and availability in the face of packet loss and congestion," Netli CEO John Peters said.

The new service follows a long line of companies that have tried to introduce improvements aimed at modern Net activities after analyzing basic under-the-hood technologies of a Web originally designed for a very different technological world.

Content delivery networks such as Akamai and Speedera Networks have focused primarily on consumer-targeted Web sites and services. They try to speed downloads in part by maintaining networks of servers around the world that shorten the physical distance data needs to travel in order to reach any given user. They also write software that routes information in more efficient ways around the Net.

Netli's new service adds a different twist to those ideas.

The company's engineers started from the premise that traditional Web communications required too many back-and-forth transfers of data to load a Web page. While these are often tiny, routine checks that take just milliseconds, they can add up; loading a page with 25 objects on it can take 31 round-trips of data, for example.

Ordinarily, this matters little. Even a slow connection can complete a trip in about 200 milliseconds, less than the time it takes to blink an eye. But complicated, interactive applications can slow things down substantially, particularly if the information needs to travel overseas. In a case study using a Hewlett-Packard Web portal as an example, Netli provided Keynote Systems data that showed that HP's internal page required more than 6 seconds to load in Japan, and more than 12 seconds in Beijing.

Netli essentially replaces Web protocols with its own for much of the network journey.

A company that signs up for the service allows Netli to take over part of its Web addressing, or Domain Name Service (DNS) function, at least for the applications that are involved. Typing the destination URL will reroute the computer user's Web request to a Netli "Virtual Data Center" in one of 13 cities around the world. There, the information will be repackaged inside Netli's protocols and then relayed to an "Application Access Point" elsewhere using protocols that don?t require so much back-and-forth Web chatter.

That second point decodes the Netli data and sends it on to its original destination, such as a database or e-commerce application, and then the data transfer happens in reverse.

Founded in 2002, just as the tech economy was headed into recession, Netli and its ideas have been solid enough to garner two rounds of funding totaling $21 million. The company launched quietly last year, and it counts HP, Nielsen/NetRatings and pharmaceutical equipment company Millipore among its early customers.

Analysts said the company shows considerable potential if its technology can help with a growing demand for corporate Web services.

"If the research holds true, and proliferation of Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Web services maintains, then these types of services will be more important," said Greg Howard, principal analyst for the High Tech Resource Consulting Group. "It's one of those types of services that can save companies money if performance is important to them."