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RealTime IT News

A Different Approach to Content Delivery

By now, it's well documented how content delivery networks (CDNs) like the ones operated by Akamai Technologies and Cable & Wireless' Digital Island can help improve the reliability and performance of content-heavy Web sites. But that optimal performance has only been accomplished on a proprietary network infrastructure of servers on the so-called "edge" of the Internet. That is, until now.

RouteScience on Monday claimed to be the first company to offer a product that allowed an enterprise to update the Internet routing tables by measuring the end-to-end application performance in real time and making Internet routing decisions based on performance metrics and customer preferences.

RouteScience said its PathControl is currently in field trials with key enterprise customers including a large Web portal and several major financial services institutions and will be available for volume shipments in October 2001. Pricing ranges from $140,000 to $250,000 depending on the device configuration.

The hardware device, which at the starting level includes a modular, 8U, 14-slot chassis and support for two ISP links, allows an organization to make Internet routing decisions at its network edge instead of relying on default Internet routing.

"This new category of products may change Internet routing from haphazard guesswork with out-of-date protocols to informed decisions based on real-time performance. This is one of the most exciting routing innovations in the last five years," TeleChoice President Christine Heckart said as a testimonial to RouteScience's announcement.

However, not everyone was so quick to play up the significance of PathControl.

"I would hesitate to call it revolutionary," said Michael Hoch, senior analyst of Internet Infrastructure for Aberdeen Group.

Currently, Internet routing relies on a set of rules known as Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to determine the hopping structure of an outbound Internet signal. But, the protocol doesn't take into account past performance, according to a RouteScience spokesman.

PathControl, in contrast, communicates with servers located on the edge of the Internet using the same BGP rules but overwrites the protocol any time the hops aren't optimal. The end result is a more cost-effective use of bandwidth and predictable Internet performance regardless of the amount of congestion and delay in the Internet core. The organization, for example, can then route traffic to the ISP links that actually deliver the best end-to-end performance depending on the users specific needs.

But based on certain scenarios, RouteScience's product is similar to the offerings of CDN services like Akamai, which on Monday announced that more than 75 customers under recurring under contract to use its EdgeSuite solution.

"That's where Akamai makes its money. As far as real-time network traffic, that's what Akamai does," Aberdeen's Hoch told InternetNews.com. Additionally, Hoch explained that he has been briefed by many similar performance-enhancement providers over the last few months.

"I'm not sure I would call it revolutionary. It's an area that has gained [renewed] attention," the analyst said.

To be sure, RouteScience officials view the closed-network CDN solutions as complementary to its PathControl product and don't perceive Akamai as a direct competitor.

We're not competing with a content delivery network. For certain types of content, it might be more efficient to use a CDN. But for others, it might be more efficient to use PathControl," RouteScience's Rob Pursell said.

I don't think they are competing [with Akamai] in any way," Hoch concurred.