Need for speed creates global success story

Just completed an initial evaluation of Aptimize web accelerator with an ‘outside-in’ view of performance gains provided by Gomez. Looks like I seem to be on the right track!

Demand for faster internet provided niche for NZ firm Aptimize
By Randal Jackson, Wellington | Wednesday, 9 February, 2011

“Necessity is the mother of invention” has been attrbibuted to various writers as far back as Plato. Aptimize CEO Ed Robinson has a modern take on it: “Our invention came from having to survive.”

The invention of the Wellington company is its Website Accelerator, which has found favour amongst the global ICT community.

Robinson started a software as a service (SaaS) company back in 2007, but it soon became apparent that the further away the user the longer their web sites took to connect – mainly because of New Zealand’s broadband limitations. New York, for example, was taking 30 seconds.

The company began working to improve the time lag and got it down to four seconds.

“It soon became apparent that our side invention to speed up the site was, in fact, a better commercial offering,” he says.

Capital was raised and Aptimize was launched late in 2008. NZ Trade and Enterprise and Tech NZ have contributed funding.

Aptimize’s first New Zealand customer was Trade Me. Two years on, the worldwide customer list includes Disney, Microsoft.com, Google, the US army and other military sites, Dell, Vodafone in Europe and, in New Zealand, Gen-i/Telecom, Mainfreight and Zespri.

“We’re also starting with some of the big US banks,” Robinson says.

Aptimize has been awarded international patents for the Website Accelerator.

The Accelerator optimises web pages in real time, with a simple software installation on the client’s web server. There is no extra hardware, no code or browser changes. Page load times are reduced by up to 75 percent.

For a company like Google, that means more page impressions and more advertising revenue. US company BuyOnlineNow, which delivers more than 30,000 office products, increased its top-line revenue from web site sales by 3.33 percent after installing Web Accelerator, saving 26 percent in bandwidth costs and $6300 in hardware costs in the first year. The US company says that Aptimize paid for itself in just six weeks.

It is also effective for enterprise intranets. Robinson says the cost saving for one of Aptimize’s large US accounts is $11,000 a month. There are 2500 employees, each viewing eight pages a day on the intranet. By reducing the load time of each page by four seconds, 22 hours of time per day are saved.

Web Accelerator is licensed per website. A typical sale is between $20,000 and $50,000.

With 97 percent of revenue generated from exports, Robinson spends a lot of time travelling the world. He is well connected in the US, having spent six years there with Microsoft, initially as a programme manager with the first version of Visual Studio, then latterly working on SharePoint, which figures prominently on Aptimize’s web site.

Citrix has signed a partnership agreement with Aptimize as an international distributor, though Robinson says sales are still predominantly over the web.

The company also recently signed another partnership agreement with Compuware, which specialises in performance management and improvement.

“We are using Compuware’s Gomez to find the problems and to also concentrate on building capability as part of our analysis phase,” he says. Gomez is a SaaS-based application performance management solution that provides visibility from the datacentre to the end user. It allows organisations whose business depends on web applications, to quickly assess the business impact of a problem to determine whether the cause is at the datacentre, on the internet, with a third-party provider or with the user’s browser or device.

It brings together enterprise and internet application performance management.


Why Web Applications And Mobile Why Web Applications And Mobile Browsing Are Making The Front-end A Major Performance Bottleneck

Interesting post from Dan Rayburn at Streaminmedia.com

For content owners, it used to be that the answer to most website performance problems was either to add more hardware, use a CDN, or reengineer their backend application code. But for a number of reasons detailed below, investing in backend optimization is now providing diminishing returns. Google’s research shows that for many popular sites it’s the frontend that accounts for over 90% of a users wait time. Content delivery networks (CDNs) help to address part of this problem by reducing network latency, but even larger performance gains can be achieved through what’s referred to as Frontend Optimization (FEO) techniques that streamline the Web page HTML code and resources.

Before diving into the details of FEO it’s important to define the difference between frontend and backend performance. Backend wait time refers to the time required for the server to respond to requests and generate the content requested. The frontend wait time refers to the time required to download the content and render it in the browser.

There are three trends shifting the performance bottleneck from the backend to the frontend. First, is the growth in the size of Web pages. Since 1995, the average size of a page has grown over 35x, and the number of objects per page has grown 28x. Second, the growth of JavaScript and AJAX usage means that more and more code is being executed on the browser vs. on the server alone. This trend will intensify as content owners move to replace more of their desktop applications with browser based, SaaS services. Lastly, the growth in mobile browsing means that Web pages are increasingly being viewed on less powerful devices with slower connections.

There are proven techniques in the market for addressing frontend performance, and it’s a subject that I’ve heard being discussed more often in the market over the past few months. Content owners and vendors who offer solutions in the market say these best practices include methods such as resource consolidation, versioning, domain sharding, minification and use of compression amongst others. There are even tools like Yslow and Webpage test that will analyze your site and make recommendations on which optimizations you should implement.

FEO might sound similar to another subject I have written about lately, dynamic site acceleration (DSA), but it’s very different. DSA’s focus is to bring network resources closer to the user by prefetching or caching files. FEO makes the content itself faster. DSA makes page resources download faster. FEO reduces the number of page resources required to download a given page and makes the browser process the page faster. For example, analysis shows that popular sites like CNN, who already use a CDN, can double current performance by implementing FEO.

In addition to improving performance, FEO can also dramatically cut operating costs and improve conversions. Shopzilla’s redesign project took their page loads from 6-8s down to less than 2s. The result was a 7-12% improvement in customer conversion and a 50% reduction in their hosting infrastructure costs of hardware and bandwidth.

Despite the potential for large performance gains, not many content owners I have spoken to have invested in frontend optimization. This is sometimes due to lack of knowledge but more often due to the high cost of implementation. FEO projects compete for the same scarce engineering resources that are focused on adding more functionality. Also, implementing FEO requires an upfront investment to retrofit sites and an on going investment to keep it optimized. Ongoing maintenance costs can escalate due to the constant stream of new desktop and mobile browser releases and each browser has it’s own performance nuances. Keeping up to date with these changes can be resource intensive.

In order to reduce FEO time and cost concerns, new technologies are now available that will automatically optimize pages. These technologies dynamically transform HTML and page resources to apply FEO best practices as users browse the site. Automated page transformation negates the need for manual investment and allows the site owner to continue to benefit from FEO while still maintaining existing designs. There are three different types of FEO players in the market; software (Aptimize), appliance (Strangeloop) and hosted services (Blaze).

Performance is a complex science and no single optimization approach works for all sites. Continued movement to more complex web applications and mobile browsing will only accelerate the need for investment in FEO. Going forward, automated FEO solutions will play an increasingly important role in helping to reduce the time and cost required to implement and maintain frontend optimization. The Web frontend is clearly an under optimized area that will offer significant performance gains for many sites and is a topic I think we’ll hear more about in 2011.