Google gets into the Content Delivery Network business

Google's been trying to make the Web go faster for some time. In their latest move, they're starting to get into Akamai and Level 3's Content Delivery Network business.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

You have to give Google credit. Instead of being content with being the king of search and online advertising, they also want to rule smartphones, Android; Web browsers, Chrome; and now they're trying the Content Delivery Network (CDN) business on for size.

In the Google Webmaster Central blog, Ram Ramani, Google Engineering Manager, announced, that Google was "releasing the latest addition to the Page Speed family: Page Speed Service."

Ramani continued, "Page Speed Service is an online service that automatically speeds up loading of your web pages. To use the service, you need to sign up and point your site's DNS [Domain Name Service] entry to Google. Page Speed Service fetches content from your servers, rewrites your pages by applying web performance best practices, and serves them to end users via Google's servers across the globe. Your users will continue to access your site just as they did before, only with faster load times. Now you don't have to worry about concatenating CSS, compressing images, caching, gzipping resources or other web performance best practices"

Google claims that in their testing "we have seen speed improvements of 25% to 60% on several sites. But we know you care most about the numbers for your site, so check out how much Page Speed Service can speed up your site."

For now, the service is free to a limited number of Web-masters. You can sign up for the service at the Request access to Page Speed Service page. Eventually, it will be a paid service.

This is far from the first time, Google's tried to get people to adopt its own plans on how to speed up their Web sites. For example, Google is encouraging Web-masters to use its own replacement for HTTP, SPDY (pronounced speedy) and it offers its own open-source Apache Web server module, mod-pagespeed that's designed to automatically optimizes Web pages. This is, however, the first time that Google is trying to play in the CDN business.

Historically, CDN is the realm of such companies as Akamai and Level 3 Communications. These businesses make their money by speeding up local delivery of huge files, such as Apple's Mac OS X Lion upgrade, or Netflix and Hulu video-streaming. So, do the major CDN players need to start looking over their shoulders at Google? Web performance expert and Strangeloop president, Joshua Bixby, doesn't think so.

Bixby, whose company specializes in software the optimizes Web site performance, said, "In the short term this is not a direct threat to the majority of the business done by top tier CDNs like Akamai and Level 3 as they make most of their money in the enterprise market, which this new offering is not applicable for. However, it will make the sales job harder for the small customers they target."

Bixby added, Google is "offering is geared to small sites with little to no complexity, which is very different from enterprise offerings in the market. The new Google product will break pages; enterprise web content optimization systems have many systems that ensure this does not happen."

He continued, "The features are basic and they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to acceleration. It performs a few basic acceleration features, some of which have the capability to slow down pages" Bixby is right about this point. I sent my own bare-bones, text-based Web site, Practical Technology, through the Page Speed test to see how it would do. Indeed, it actually was marginally slower using Google Page Speed.

So, if you have a site that just presents basic HTML Web pages, don't expect much from Page Speed. Still, you can always check for yourself before becoming a beta tester.

Bixby also observed that Google Page Speed "features don't today address the most important performance challenges faced by the enterprise. It might speed up individual page but not transactions or flows (i.e., it will probably hurt conversion); enterprise WCO [Web content optimization] companies look across pages and examine user flows to ensure optimal flows instead of pages. Some of the major performance issues facing pages today not solved by the new product include 3rd party tags, consolidation of images, etc."

So, if some small and middle-sized businesses might get some good from Google Page Speed and the big CDNs have nothing to worry about yet, who should be concerned? Bixby thinks that this "is a very interesting competitive offering to Amazon and some of the small cloud acceleration players like CloudFlare, Blaze, Torbit, and Yotta. The cloud providers offering basic page based acceleration features targeted at the small- to mid-market will be faced with a formidable competitor."

The bottom line? If you have a SMB, I think you owe it to yourself to at least check Google Page Speed out. While you're at it, if your Web site feels creaky and slow to use, you might want to check into Strangeloop or any of these other Web site optimization companies.

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