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Infrastructure Management

Kaazing Talks Up a Leaner, Meaner Web Fabric with WebSocket

Veteran watchers of the technology scene frequently refer to an old piece of wisdom that says, in a gold-rush, the makers of picks and shovels are usually the ones that get rich. While the big internet applications and services are highly visible, the infrastructure plumbing and underlying architecture of the web that supports these is more difficult to understand and see the value in, but the value is there nonetheless.

Kaazing has a name that makes the company sound like it should be a shiny B2C startup but in fact it’s an infrastructure firm that is helping web users everywhere by providing a modern communications fabric that millions, if not billions, of us are going to be using in some shape or form quite soon, usually without knowing about it. That’s because Kaazing developed much of the core technology behind the HTML 5 WebSocket protocol that is currently being standardised, as well as offering a commercial product (Kaazing WebSocket Gateway) based on that platform. WebSocket is viewed by supporters as HTTP for a new era, enabling faster, smarter two-way interaction between browsers and web servers so everything from financial trading to conferencing to interactive multiplayer games playing becomes slicker.

“We did it because of the frustration we had with the way the web was constructed for communications,” says Kaazing CEO, Jonas Jacobi, when we spoke by phone recently.

“Smartphones and tablets were never designed for a web like this. [Today’s web fabric] is for static documents; it’s not a fabric for live communications from Tweets to telemetry or trading in real time. WebSocket is an alternative to, not a replacement for, HTTP.”

Application servers were designed to act as the operating system of the web and indeed firms such as BEA with its WebLogic appserver were first-generation web picks-and-shovels firms, but Jacobi says they are now antique approaches for a different era. 

“[Application servers like] Oracle WebLogic and IBM WebSphere rely on a request model. We felt that was very limiting, so why not give people direct access rather than getting stuck in the web tier?”

Even network connectivity luminaries like Bob Metcalfe have in the past predicted a collapse in internet availability and performance, and in Metcalfe’s famous case that was decades before traffic multiplied many times over. They have largely been proven wrong because of the good work of the W3C and a series of ingenious sticking-plaster technologies. But the need for a modernised architecture is only going to become more painfully plain as yet more services, apps and devices get connected and create the potential for the mother of all snarl-ups.

“Ericsson, Cisco and so on are predicting the growth of connected devices with two billion to 50 billion devices connecting over the same infrastructure so the burden will be on not just the network but also the back end,” says Jacobi.

“With HTTP today, if you want to say ‘hello’ it’s like putting that message in a shipping container that everyone else is using. If you want to send a business card-sized message what we do is provide an envelope not much bigger than the card.”

Of course, with so many vested interests in the status quo there was bound to be some negativity and inertia.

“Yes, I’ll be absolutely frank,” Jacobi says. “People said ‘why do we need another standard?’ and there was resistance. But we’re providing the freedom to innovate on top of HTTP, not replacing it. It’s something different to all the intermediaries like load balancers that have been designed to address this shortcoming.”

Having recently pocketed a further $15m in funding to add to the $24m already raised, Kaazing looks to have the opportunity to make its vision of a leaner, meaner web architecture a reality. And add another score for makers of picks and shovels...

 

Martin Veitch, Editorial Director, IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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