The Internet’s outdated architecture is holding back the development of a fully ‘living web’, but one firm claims to have the answer.
Despite the explosion in connected devices and near ubiquitous broadband in the developed world, the web’s underlying architecture is still built on the HTTP request/response communication method essentially designed to transfer documents or other resources.
Speaking at the Apps World conference taking place in London today, John Fallows, chief technology officer and co-founder of California-based web development firm Kaazing, says the demands of what he calls the ‘living web’ – a web that works in real-time just like the real world – require a more flexible system.
“The web is traditionally built on a request response paradigm. In the emerging world, you need to be able to interact with me without a request,” he said.
The founding team behind Kaazing were instrumental in developing the HTML5 industry standard WebSocket protocol, which creates a persistent network connection by initiating a handshake over HTTP and then upgrading the connection to an always-on socket.
It works with the existing web architecture to create a full-duplex data channel – a constant two-way connection in which both sides can send information to each other, even at the same time – much like replacing the telegraph with the telephone.
While the major browsers have adopted or are in the process of adding the protocol, the difficulty of building the back-end architectures for different platforms and devices that can cope with the scale of global mobile networks is holding back the pervasive adoption of the WebSocket standard.
But Fallows believes that the possibilities opened by the WebSocket standard have limitless applications, from multinational companies to the smallest startups.
“Our kids are going to want more than we do, they will be less patient,” he said. “At each stage everyone’s expectations constantly grow so it’s a never ending cycle. Whenever you use things more effectively people don’t end up using less they just do more. If something uses 10 per cent less than it used to, people don’t use 10 per cent less, they do 10 per cent more.”
This prompted Kaazing to develop their WebSocket Gateway, which the firm claims is the world's only enterprise solution for full-duplex communication, to allow developers to take advantage of real-time communication without having to overcome the countless complications involved in designing and scaling up the back end web architecture of their apps.
“What we are doing going forward is making sure this web tier ends up no longer being part of the app development process,” he said. “Because the architecture is smaller, they are more straight forward, there are fewer moving parts, it’s easy to scale it out because we are solving those challenges.
“There’s a saying, the most maintainable code you ever have is the code you don’t have to write,” he added. “Our speciality is getting the web out of the way to let you focus on providing highly interactive applications.”
Fallows says the results speak for themselves. Solutions they have provided so far include a project with Nascar racing in the USA in which telemetry data from every car is fed into a computer program in real-time to create a fully interactive 3D model of the race that enables users to choose which cars they want to follow and from what angle rather than having to rely on television footage.
When Swiss rail operators needed to increase capacity without building more track, Kaazing suggested replacing the SMS system used to tell drivers when to speed up or slow down, which suffered from delays and loss of connectivity, with their full-duplex system.
“By adding our technology into the mix, they were not only able to send information in an instant they were also able to detect if the train was going too slowly or had stopped for too long,” said Fallows. “Think about how much energy it takes to stop a train and start it again. Compare that to allowing it to roll through slowly.”
By being able to manage their resources better the operators were able to increase capacity and save tens of millions of euros from their €10bn (£8.5bn) budget.
According to Fallows, the possibiluities are endless. Real-time communication could allow retailers to cater to customers live and in real time, deliver players’ real-time stats on a tablet or smartphone during a football game and allow truly live gambling, or even allow real-time polling for Q&A session for live TV programs.
“People are carrying around these supercomputers in their pockets and they are all trying to get information right now,” said Fallows. “It’s big data in motion and it has to be still fresh when you receive it, you can’t let the information go stale.”