Making a bid to cache in on Internet technology Service: SkyCache is a new firm started by Doug Humphrey, who hopes caching is a technology that catches on with Internet service providers.

Technology

March 19, 1998|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Once again, Doug Humphrey is looking to make it big on the Internet.

Humphrey's last company, Digex Inc., was a Beltsville-based Internet service provider that embodied the turbulent early days of the industry. Digex enjoyed heady growth, suffered persistent losses and was eventually sold in 1997 to a Florida telephone company for $150 million.

This week, at a convention in Baltimore, Humphrey unveiled the first service of his new firm, SkyCache Inc. of Laurel. This time around, the aim is not to compete with Internet service providers, but to sell them on a technology that may help change the face of the Internet.

The technology is called caching. Simply put, a cache is like the "new releases" shelf of a video store. It's a place where copies of the hottest Web sites are stored for quick access. Rather than letting each request for a popular site clog up its overburdened networks, an ISP can simply send the request to the cache for fast service.

"Caches minimize the number of times an ISP has to transmit the same kind of information," said Humphrey, who estimated that caching can reduce the burden on network capacity by 10 percent to 50 percent.

Humphrey, 38, said that caching is catching. "We estimate that within two years every ISP will run some sort of caching system," he said.

Analysts agree that caches are growing in popularity, and not just among capacity-starved ISPs. Large corporations are turning the technology as a means of reducing traffic on their own internal computer networks, also known as intranets. In addition, caches can make a company's Web site come up faster on a screen.

The Cambridge, Mass., technology research firm Forrester Research Inc. recently surveyed Fortune 1000 companies and found that more than half of the polled firms use some form of caching system. More than 90 percent reported that they expected to deploy caches within the next two years.

However, caches aren't foolproof. Brendan Hannigan, an analyst Forrester, said one drawback to storing a Web site outside the normal network is that it may not get updated quickly enough. "Caches can have stale data within them," he said.

Hannigan said caches may also result in distorted "hit counts," the visitor tallies that indicate how popular a site is.

He said these glitches should be resolved soon, and will not pose much of an obstacle to the growth of caching.

David Roddy, chief telecommunications economist for Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group LLC in Washington, said that while caches are an up-and-coming technology, he doubts that they are the ultimate solution to Internet traffic jams. He estimated that caching will reduce network demand by only about 10 percent to 15 percent.

"Caching is sort of an interim solution here," he said. "We have all these people on the Internet using up all this time on flat-rate programs. What we probably really need is a better price system. Caching doesn't address the fundamental economic problem."

That fundamental problem, he said, would be better addressed by an abandonment of all-you-can-eat pricing and an introduction of what he calls a "reservation" system. Under that system, users will be able to pay different prices for different levels of service.

He said caching, which makes it possible for users to get some sites faster than others, is a stepping-stone to reservation pricing.

"In the next two years, caching will evolve into reservation," he said.

For now, though, caching is the "next big thing," and Doug Humphrey hopes to cash in on it.

Founded just last August, SkyCache plans to have 20 employees by the end of this month.

Within 90 days, Humphrey said, the company plans to introduce its product in Europe, where caching is more common due to higher network costs.

He said this start-up is a little different from Digex, which was founded in 1991, the Pleistocene Epoch of the Internet.

"Back then, when you tried to sell someone on the Internet, no one knew what it was," he said.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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