March 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

Online video, Ajax serve up new site performance challenges for retailers

The more online retailers dress up their web pages with online video and interactive Ajax applications, the more they have to ensure that their web servers can serve up all that rich content, experts say.

The more online retailers dress up their web pages with online video and interactive Ajax applications, the more they have to ensure that their web servers can serve up all that rich content, experts say.

“Video taxes online infrastructure, and Ajax taxes it, so as retailers add richer content to their sites, there’s a bigger push to ensure that content is delivered to the consumer as fast as possible,” says Pedro Santos, senior product manager for Akamai Technologies Inc., a provider of content delivery and acceleration products and services.

While video content absorbs space on web servers, adding Ajax applications creates a bigger challenge because of the way Ajax technology works, Santos adds. Ajax, or asynchronous JavaScript and XML, constantly sends messages between a shopper’s web browser and a back-end web server to display content like product images and pop-up windows of product details. “What can go wrong is that because rich Internet applications like Ajax are ‘chatty,’ with lots of calls from the user’s browser to back-end servers, this can result in a delay of several seconds,” Santos says. “And about 33% of online consumers will abandon any transaction that takes longer than four seconds.”

When a shopper uses an Ajax-developed online product configurator, for example, it can require four or five calls between her web browser and a back-end server to make each new image appear, he adds.

The spread of broadband Internet access is making it easier for more online consumers to more quickly access rich content on web sites, but this has also led to more stress on retailers’ web servers as more consumers click on rich content, says Nathan Decker, head of e-commerce at sports equipment and apparel retailer Evogear.com. “As broadband penetration increases, rich content becomes more of an accessible thing for consumers, and therefore more difficult to serve it,” he says.

Evogear and other retailers are taking several steps to ensure rich content loads properly and quickly, including in-house coding designed to expedite loading and the use of content management and accelerator tools from organizations like Akamai, Lime Wire LLC and Pando Networks.

Akamai, in addition to its content delivery network that can serve up content from servers closest to a consumer, provides the Dynamic Site Accelerator for serving up rich, dynamic content and StreamOS for managing the display of video files.

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