Start-up’s appliance accelerates ASP.Net apps

Strangeloop AppScaler increases speed by eliminating excess code

An appliance that accelerates dynamic Web applications built with the Microsoft ASP.Net framework is being announced today by a Canadian start-up called Strangeloop Networks.

An appliance that accelerates dynamic Web applications built with the Microsoft ASP.Net framework is being announced today by Canadian start-up Strangeloop Networks.

Strangeloop’s AppScaler appliance appears to be the first product to specifically target speed problems in applications based on ASP.Net, says Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala.

“When I first talked to them, I thought ‘why do we need another one of these guys?’” Kerravala says. But, “they seem to have found a little niche in the market that no one else solves.”

AppScaler works by eliminating code that doesn’t need to be sent across a network to a user’s browser, says Joshua Bixby, co-founder and senior vice president of product management for Strangeloop, in Vancouver, B.C.

Developers place this extra code in Web applications because it helps them quickly and easily develop dynamic programs, Bixby says. This creates a trade-off in performance the AppScaler solves by taking out the excess code in a way that improves performance without changing the visual content of the Web page, he says.

“Because we understand ASP.Net, we understand what we can leave in, what we can take out, how we can change it,” he says. “The page you get is half the size, but your experience [as a user] is not affected at all.”

Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (AJAX)-based applications such as ones built with ASP.Net are supposed to quickly generate new content without a user reloading a Web page, similar to a desktop application.

But many of these sites suffer performance problems, and Strangeloop executives believe existing solutions are inadequate.

“As applications become more dynamic, more interactive and more personalized, they get slower and slower,” Bixby says. “The network person has no tools available to them today to make this application go faster. The only thing they can do is tell the developers to optimize their code, to throw more resources at developers.”

AppScaler sits in front of a customer’s Web servers, and behind the load balancer and other network gear. “It requires no change to any of those things,” Bixby says. “You write no code, you don’t change any rules, you just plop it in and it works. It’s totally transparent to the network.”

The appliance starts at $10,000, and a typical customer will pay between $20,000 and $40,000, Bixby says. There are five beta users in a trial that started last month, and the product will be released commercially in September, he says.

Beta customer Marqui, a Vancouver software-as-a-service vendor that provides content management and marketing automation, is testing the product and believes AppScaler will make its Web site six times faster while decreasing bandwidth usage 35% to 50%, according to Jackie Reid, director of client services.

Marqui has not yet deployed the product on its public-facing Web site. “The plan is, soon as they’re ready then we’ll take it into our environment,” Reid says. “We are just going to see a significant improvement. We run mission-critical software. Our customers need that kind of critical uptime.”

Many customers could find AppScaler useful, since much of today’s Web application development -- perhaps close to half -- is being done with ASP.Net, Kerravala says. The price is reasonable, given that companies often spend millions of dollars on their Web sites, he says.

But Strangeloop solves only one problem, and for customers it’s not a good strategy to solve each problem with a separate product, he says. Thus, Strangeloop is a strong candidate to be acquired by a larger company that can embed AppScaler within a more comprehensive application accelerator, Kerravala says.

F5 Networks, Nortel, Juniper Networks and Cisco could all be potential buyers of Strangeloop if the company does well, he says.

“Their likely out is to get acquired by an F5 or something like that that wants that functionality,” Kerravala says. “Long term, it’s not a good strategy [for customers] to try to solve all your problems on point products. I think they’ll have some success and you may see them being a good acquisition.”

Learn more about this topic

Microsoft joins OpenAJAX group


AJAX not yet the norm, but some companies report success


Tech Ed: Microsoft AJAX framework forges ahead


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