There’s a number of barriers that SaaS vendors (and for that matter anyone
who wants people to engage with them online) need to overcome. Some of these
barriers are technical and some cultural. One of the technical issues is the
speed of transaction (and I mean transaction not in the buying/selling sense of
the word but rather in the requirement/fulfillment sense of it).
While we all bemoan the dire situation with broadband infrastructure (at
least, most of us do), not a great deal of attention is being given to the
quality of the content in terms of optimization. I was lucky enough to be
present to hear the launch pitch for one company last week that seeks to solve
at least part of this problem.
New Zealand is debatably the perfect place to create companies attempting to
solve some of the Internet’s speed issues. We’re a tech savvy nation that
suffers from marginal broadband infrastructure internally and from a limited
supply of international connections. Add to that the fact that the majority of
the content we access is hosted on the other side of the world and you’ll see
we’re a great example of why the Internet has a "need for speed".
Aptimize is a new start-up
which is planning on speeding our Internet experience without the need for
better infrastructure. Aptimize has developed a product it’s called Runtime Page
Optimizer (RPO) and they’re making some pretty lofty claims including up to a
200% speed improvement based on a completely server-sided tool.
Aptimize explains their product as follows;
The RPO is a software component that accelerates website performance without
development changes or extra hardware. The RPO is installed on the web server
and optimises pages as they are sent to the browser. The process is invisible to
site visitors; nothing needs to be installed or changed on the web browser. RPO
employs a revolutionary new “resource combining” technique that reduces the
number of roundtrips the browser makes to the web server to load a webpage.
For example, if a webpage contains six images, instead of the browser loading
six separate images, the RPO combines them into a single mosaic meaning only one
image is loaded.
The web browser automatically separates the combined image and displays the
stylesheets. The RPO also performs compression and caching. The result is
webpages that load up to four times faster.
The RPO is currently available for Microsoft SharePoint,
DotNetNuke and Microsoft ASP.NET internet and intranet websites, with a version
for Linux Apache in development.
Does Aptimize work? They’re proud to show people the following endorsement
from none other than Google USA. Steve Souders, Web Performance Engineer with Google
says of Aptimize’s product that;
RPO takes the industry from "here’s what you need to fix" to "fast by
default". This is the next step in performance tool development – automatically
making any web page faster without the developer having to do any additional
Aptimize was spun out of a SaaS startup, ActionThis. The founders of ActionThis were facing the issues
that any start-up faces when it is geographically displaced from it’s potential
markets, the need to ensure a fast and effective experience for their users. The
following graph shows the improvements Aptimize achieved by creating and using
the RPO tool.
The real problem is the speed of light
Rather than focus purely on international pipes, Aptimize is adamant that the
real problem with web speed is distance.
They gave me an example using my own blog, diversity.net.nz. Using AOL’s pagetest
tool, they ran a diagnostic and showed me the individual element, and
cumulative entire page download times for my site. The total time to initially
download the 81 elements that make up my site? About 18 seconds. Aptimize are
adamant that the problem here is the number of individual elements rather then
any infrastructure issues per se. Their rationale for this follows;
Let’s suppose the entire world has unlimited super fast broadband
It will still take 0.13 seconds for a single image to download from a server
in Wellington to a browser in London, since this is how long it takes for light
to make the roundtrip. If you have 20 images, you’ve just added three seconds to
your load time. There are a lot of other factors involved, but you can see the
general principle, which is why Yahoo and Google recommend “reduce HTTP
requests” as the number one factor to increase performance
If Aptimize works (and the founders told me of some implementations soon to
be complete with some pretty staggeringly high page views – that sort of
customer confidence indicates a bona fide solution), and if they can protect
themselves from potential competitive products, Aptimize could trim those
priceless seconds off our web experience.