Getting Key Info Right Away
Until now, the only way to make Web data "live" was to constantly refresh the users browser or use streaming technology, which sacrifices bandwidth.
Bang Networks Inc., which was launched earlier this month, is taking a new tack that will enable organizations to keep data for Web pages and in Web applications up-to-date without gobbling up resources.
The real ingenuity of Bangs service is that its routing technology updates specific pieces of information rather than whole Web sites, said Bang co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Tim Tuttle.
"Its sort of a hybrid of a router and a server," Tuttle said. "The problem we have today on the Internet is that its the exact same experience as it was 10 years ago: The Web only serves these static snapshots of information. Its rooted in how routers work and in how the Web was originally designed."
First, Webmasters subscribe to the San Francisco startups DirectPath service, then they add a special markup tag to any site or Web application data that they want to be live. These can go beyond the obvious sportscasts and stock data streams to include an application with fast-changing data that needs an always-on connection.
When a user views a Bang-enabled Web site for the first time, he or she downloads a Java applet that adds the tag to the browsers vocabulary. Then, when the browser encounters the tag, it opens a second TCP/IP connection to Bangs network, where the live parts of the site reside along with Bangs proprietary router technology.
As Webmasters update their Bang-enabled data, the changes are automatically available to users.
Bangs overlay network resides in eight U.S. centers hosted by Exodus Communications Inc. and Internap Network Services Corp. The network can support 2 million concurrent connections, Tuttle said.
"When we started doing this two years ago, it was never about making numbers on Web pages change. It was about adding a new level of intelligence to the public Internet," he said.
Jeff Barca-Hall, vice president of engineering for IronPlanet.com Inc., is setting up a trial of Bangs technology this month for his companys Web auctions of used construction vehicles.
With up to six auctions on one Web page being viewed by hundreds of users at once, getting out personalized, up-to-the-second data is vitaland about as tough as some of the construction equipment, Barca-Hall said.
"Theres nothing more expensive you can do on the Web than buy a $100,000 excavator," he said.
IronPlanets experts inspect every vehicle and then conduct 30-minute auctions.
"We are in the process of implementing the Bang Networks technology. ... I do expect that it will become a very common choice for our users," said Barca-Hall, in Pleasanton, Calif. If the live connection fails, "the worst case is that we fall back to the tried-and-true refresh, so theres no harm."
DirectPath is the first of many services Bang hopes to develop, Tuttle said. "Our plan is not just about HTML in the PC; its about taking our service and using it to reach any HTML device or application," he said.
Bang is beta testing its service for handheld computers, mobile telephones and set-top boxes.
Tuttles company expects to provide standard connectivity to these devices this summer, either as DirectPath 2.0 or as a new product.
"We want to make it possible to enable any type of experience inside any Web-connected device," Tuttle said.
Alternatively, Tuttle said, a DirectPath-like service could be adapted for Web-based collaboration tools or for new kinds of content management services.
"Customers would use our network to provide the control steam for all the coordination in that environment," he said.
Another possibilityalbeit one without specific plansis cooperation between Bang and Loudcloud Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif., hosting and infrastructure management enterprise that is run by Netscape Communications Corp. pioneer Marc Andreessen.
Andreessen, who helped fund Bang, and other veterans of Netscape are investors in two other Silicon Valley companies, which, he said, may be able to cooperate on future solutions with Bang.
Zodiac Networks, of Mountain View, Calif., is a stealth-mode startup reportedly trying to apply the peer-to-peer concept to hosting. Sigma Networks Inc., of San Jose, Calif., is a network services provider.
But, Andreessen said, any decision to have the four companies work together is still down the road.
"You really dont want them to work too closely together," he said. "Im going to bet on horizontal segmentation. But I dont want to get too far aheadthat would ruin all the fun."
While Andreessen did not cite specifics of future cooperation among the companies, Bang has gone forward on a contrary route: The company has signed on as a customer of SiteSmith Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif., competitor of Loudcloud. SiteSmith will monitor and manage Bangs network, Tuttle said.
Rather than just attaching larger pipes to the backbone, the user experience could be improved by making data smaller, or simply more intelligent, Andreessen said.
"The basic bet that Im making," he said, "is that there will be whole new layers of infrastructure that will merge on top of the existing network."