Contributed by Skip Rudolf, Vice President, Marketing, Tata Communications

How to choose the right web acceleration provider for growth markets, rich content & connected devices

Skip Rudolf

There’s this interesting product you’d like to find out more about. You visit their website, but the images of the product don’t display. It could be your Internet connection; you hit ‘refresh’ a couple of times, but the images still don’t render. Too bad; you go elsewhere. It’s unlikely you’ll bookmark the URL or return to this site later.

Most of us think the problem of Web acceleration was solved years ago, however, as the Web has become more global, content has become richer and people access websites through an increasing array of connected devices, this scenario plays out around the world millions of times a day. It could be images, a video, software, or a mobile application. The Web publisher has lost a visitor or customer, all because it could not deliver in time.

According to a blog by KISSmetrics, quoting Gomez and Akamai, 25% of visitors abandon a page that has taken four seconds to load, with the number rising sharply as load times increase. A full 30% of respondents in a survey said they would wait six to 10 seconds before giving up, with another 16% claiming five seconds is the maximum for them.

Even with broadband, websites can still perform poorly. One reason is the distance the data has to travel between its origin and destination. Content that is served from a single server, for instance, may have to pass through multiple routers and networks to fulfill a visitor request. Each hop increases the time to serve a Web page, degrading the experience.

Additionally, content has become much richer. There are many more components to a Web page, and each component is much larger than it used to be just a few years ago. The sheer volume of data to be delivered compounds the distance issue, slowing down websites.

The way we consume multimedia content has also changed over the years. Not long ago, we were still purchasing CDs and DVDs but more people are now streaming content through YouTube, iTunes, Netflix and other similar services. Just take the recently concluded Olympics 2012 as an example. The BBC reported that the majority of the video requests (62 million) on their website was for live streams. Not only that, a study by Emeryville video analytics startup, Tubemogul, showed that four out of five online video viewers click away from a streaming clip if it pauses to buffer instead of waiting for the video to reload.

The proliferation of connected devices has meant that Web publishers must cater to the preferences for each device to serve the online experience correctly and quickly. Juniper Research, a firm based in UK, forecasts the number of residential televisions connected to the Internet via different platforms including built-in wireless or Ethernet connectivity, will reach almost 650 million worldwide by 2017.

The end-result of making visitors wait? Fewer page views, abandoned shopping carts, and other behavior that tarnishes brands, and reduces loyalty and revenues.

For companies that want to dramatically reduce page load times, serve smooth playing videos, or scale software delivery for customers around the world, website acceleration is usually the answer. The technology includes ways to cache resources across the globe in order to serve it more quickly, as well as tools that introduce best practices for streamlining code.

Web acceleration can be improved in numerous ways. Content delivery network (CDN) providers help Web publishers deliver assets to visitors. They offer improved page load times by replicating and caching assets in a distributed network, reducing distances and the number of hops to a request anywhere in the world. But most don’t have their own Tier 1 network.

Cloud service providers do enable the delivery of Web assets, but do not usually offer integrated managed services. Such services require significant technical expertise to configure, develop and launch on a cloud platform, and also need constant monitoring by the content owner.

The challenge for companies is to choose a website acceleration partner which dramatically and affordably improves serving of Web content. To help, we’ve distilled the purchase criteria for the ideal website acceleration solution provider down to these five guidelines:

(1) Global Infrastructure and Network

Some providers of Web acceleration services may contract for bandwidth. They don’t own, monitor or troubleshoot delivery issues themselves. Others, such as Tata Communications, that own a Tier 1 network, get global reach, can optimise routing, and can address delivery issues directly. A Tier 1 network has the bandwidth to handle unpredictable spikes in traffic caused by flash crowds or software patches. In addition, Tier 1 network providers have direct peering relationships with all other Tier 1 network providers, so they offer greater inherent coverage into more countries and support more connections than most pure-play CDNs. And as the number and purchasing power of end-users in growth economies explodes, it’s increasingly important that content owners deliver directly to regions such as Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East.

An example would be the trend of IPTV across the globe where a new study from US firm ABI Research shows that half of the world set-top boxes (STBs) are destined for Asia Pacific. In 2013, 220 million STBs will be shipped and Asia-Pacific is taking 50% of it.

(2) Extended Content Delivery Services

Leverage a provider that can enable and/or improve performance across a wide range of assets, such as Web content, videos, live streaming and software delivery. Delivering software requires a completely different configuration from delivering live streams. Similarly, there should be support for all popular Internet access devices – PCs, tablets, mobile devices, IPTVs, STBs, and other connected devices.

(3) Integration with Additional IP Network Services

Content delivery services are only part of the communications equation for companies of all sizes. Companies are increasingly looking for integrated service offerings that include satellite ingest, managed hosting, co-location, IP transit, video conferencing and more.

(4) Support

After-sales support should be available 24/7 for customers of all sizes at no extra charge. This can include insights from experts into best practices for improving site performance, as well as 24/7 phone and email support.

(5) Value

Ideally, a company should get all of the above at an affordable price.

At the end of the day, pages which load quickly pave the way for maximum user engagement and better conversion rates; potentially increased visitor loyalty plus more completed transactions. In an age where online presence is everything, these are significant results to aim for. Working with the right website acceleration provider is sure to bring companies that compete on the Web closer to these goals.