Rohit Khare (Live from the IETF where we just shut down the HTTPWG
meeting series after three years...)
[From the Ether]
December 1, 1997
Follow the shining star's lead for a better, faster Internet
-- but don't tell
You have to promise, before reading any further, that you
will not mention this column to the Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF; at http://www.ietf.org) or the World Wide
Web Consortium (W3C; at http://www.w3.org).
I have to insist, not because I fear upsetting the IETF and
W3C -- that's my job -- but because a new company, Sitara
Networks, is this week introducing products that might make
IETF and W3C look bad. Sitara asked me to be sensitive,
because it is a member of both and wants to stay friends.
Sitara was founded in 1996 by Malik Khan, formerly of
Motorola. He's since gathered a team from places like Bay
Networks and Lotus, raised $12.5 million in venture capital,
and moved to Waltham, Mass. "Sitara" means "shining star" in
Urdu, the language of Pakistan, which is where Khan is from.
Find all of this at http://www.sitara.net.
Sitara will this week introduce SpeedSeeker and SpeedServer.
The company's slogan is "the wait is over," by which it
means the World Wide Wait, one of my favorite subjects.
Sitara is promising potential Web-server customers that
their users will experience a Web that is three- to
eight-times faster. And the busier the Internet, the greater
So, how will Sitara speed the Web?
What a SpeedSeeker-equipped Web browser does with a
SpeedServer at a Sitara customer's Web site is to control
and optimize transmissions through Internet links between
them. Sitara combines HTTP and TCP, and makes them work
HTTP and TCP handshaking are combined and streamlined.
Element requests from processes on the client are
consolidated. Transmission rates are controlled to the
capacity of limiting the bottleneck between client and
server, often a modem. When receive buffers threaten to
overflow, transmissions are slowed before packets are lost.
And when backbones grow congested, transmissions are
controlled accordingly. In particular, when packets are
lost, only the lost ones are retransmitted.
The benefits of Sitara's HTTP/TCP optimization are fewer
dropped connections, less data transferred, lighter server
loads, and quicker responses, especially as Internet packet
losses mount during busy hours.
Sitara shows a speedup of 800 percent with backbone packet
losses running 15 percent. Losses of 50 percent are often
recorded, such as when the stock market recently collapsed
-- oops, wrong word.
If SpeedSeekers and SpeedServers accelerate Web access as
Sitara claims, IETF and W3C will look bad for two reasons:
their processes for improving HTTP and TCP are slow, and
they're organizationally reluctant to combine HTTP and TCP.
Now, some of what Sitara is doing sounds like HTTP/1.1,
about which I was hopeful here once. (See "Replace the
'net's old pipes with shiny HTTP 1.1 for few floods, fast
downloads," March 31.)
Jim Gettys, a Digital visiting scientist at W3C who has
never heard of Sitara, says HTTP/1.1 will "probably go to
draft standard sometime in the next couple months, as we
wrap up interoperability testing and documentation." (See
On the subject of HTTP/1.1 deployment, Gettys says, "We
still have a small fraction of clients talking to a
significant fraction of servers, resulting in an even
smaller fraction of traffic being HTTP/1.1. This will change
as browser deployment hits its stride."
Sitara says its three- to eight-times speedup is an
improvement over browser and server implementations already
using HTTP/1.1. But of course, such implementations are by
most accounts not very good yet.
Egads, is Sitara proposing to deviate from the standard HTTP
and TCP? Not exactly. First, a SpeedSeeker-equipped browser
(Microsoft or Netscape on Windows 95 or Windows NT)
encountering a non-SpeedServer site just lets HTTP and TCP
thrash around as usual. And vice versa. But when a
SpeedSeeker client detects it's talking to a SpeedServer
(Unix or NT), Sitara's "Turbo TCP" kicks in.
Also, SpeedSeeker runs atop the standard IP and presents
standard interfaces to applications so that they need not be
Further, Sitara, hoping to mollify IETF and W3C, promises to
submit its protocol technology for standardization through
IETF and W3C.
If you use Windows 95 or NT, take 5 minutes to download the
1MB beta version of SpeedSeeker.
Let me know how true Sitara's claims of speedup are for you
in this beta version. But, again, shush. Don't let the IETF
and W3C in on this.