Product analysis by Joel Oleson for CollabShow.com requested by Mobolize, but these thoughts are my own. I invite anyone to provide their feedback in the comments… love to discuss your experience!
One of the oldest challenges of the web has been latency and bandwidth. As bandwidth has gotten better, the technologies have gotten richer. We put more and more on the networks at the expense of users who have to wait. Ultimately, high costs for bandwidths in some markets are killing potential productivity. As well, distances pose problems for collaboration and make it that much harder to work together. Mobolize has taken the challenge head on. Mobolize CacheFront is designed to address the “anywhere anytime” access to information. Their solution focuses on accelerating page loads, reducing network traffic as well as providing offline solutions. In the past when I’ve talked about solutions like these it was software you needed to install on your servers, or we were talking to the network folks to get WAN appliances in the network and in some cases both upstream and downstream devices. This has been a tough challenge to tackle for many customers. As the name suggests, CacheFront is designed around optimizing caching. On their website they claim to reduce web traffic by 80% and accelerating page loads by 10x! On top of that, imagine local network speeds for SharePoint when traveling with little or no bandwidth.
- Client apps to web apps
- On-premises to public or private cloud or software as a service
- Increase in mobile devices including tablets and smart phones
- Security focus with emphasis on HTTPS
- Richer web capabilities with larger file sizes
- Mobile workforce
The way we work has changed as has the web itself. First, let’s dig into the numbers. According to IDC, the average mobile page size increased 39% since last year. Across web pages in general, there is a lot more intelligence built into the pages themselves with HTML 5, responsive web design, and improved CSS. It means a richer and more dynamic experience, but it can also mean a higher payload going from 1 MB to 1.25 MB in the last two years for the average web page. You can also expect this to increase! As well, there’s been a major shift in how we use applications. More and more of our apps are served from the cloud, for example Office Web Applications. I know I’m hearing more and more that people simply need a browser and an email client. Microsoft has definitely made that their vision and focus. It wasn’t that long ago that it was all about the rich client, with the focus now on mobility, flexibility through having everything you need served via the web. The desktop is ultimately being traded for richer web apps, shifting from client apps to web apps. In addition, devices and mobile work really has exploded.
When you look at these trends, there is major impact on productivity and providing tools and solutions to ensure that these mobile workers have the best access to the data. They need to quickly make decisions and can’t be waiting for pages to load or failing to provide information due to network connectivity on a client site.
Impact of Trends
- Security demand for HTTPS delivery
- Traffic on higher latency WANs
- WAN optimization is less effective due to HTTPS
- From LANs to slower cell-based networks
- Need quick access to business documents in SharePoint, plus data in Salesforce when offline
Gartner called out the need for optimization in this area in their 2012 WAN optimization report. “We are also seeing early signs of the need to optimize traffic to mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones, as well as access to externally hosted applications (cloud).” With SharePoint data being transferred over HTTPS there is little that is cached on network equipment and ultimately page loads kill productivity on slower network or cell links becoming unusable.
Figure 1: Mobolize Management Console
Understanding Mobolize CacheFront
CacheFront optimizes network traffic by eliminating traffic on the wire. Rather than needing to upgrade your expensive network equipment, Mobolize focuses on the end point. Rather than trying to optimize files for everyone, the experience is personalized. CacheFront is installed as a browser plugin that can be scheduled to prefetch and cache pages, documents, and images that otherwise would be slow or unavailable to download later. The settings ask the user to specify the site and number of levels that you want to cache. While some power users would have no problem listing all of the sites they care to have offline, others can be added to a group that is configured to automatically cache site data. For example, sales team members may need a demo site cached for performance and offline access that they all use.
In the browser bar you can manage your reading list of offline pages, access the cache, or quickly sync the latest changes prior to going on the road.
Figure 2: CacheFront Browser Quick Links
To the average user, they will see the benefits, but for the most part, the fact that the caching is happening simply blends into the background. A system tray and quick links in the browser gives the user quick access to settings and control. Based on the technical abilities of the users, the admin can provide as little or as much interface and control to the users.
Figure 3: Mobolize CacheFront Client: Manage Sites, System Configuration, Cache Settings, or View Stats
While it’s easy for me to dig into the app and help you see the internals, I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the business value in a product like this. Ultimately, these are mostly about productivity.
- Offline access to SharePoint – If the client can’t connect, the pages will be displayed offline in the browser.
- Faster access when connected – since ~80% of the page is cached
- Business continuity – If SharePoint servers go down, the users work off local copies of their most important sites and documents.
- Ensure compliance and reduce risk by managing, eliminating or migrating privacy related data
- Reduce Network traffic and measure it with the built in or custom reporting
- Access to Search of the cache while offline
Figure 4: Mobolize CacheFront Utilization Report
The surprising part of what they showed me was how CacheFront isn’t just sync of documents. SharePoint over time has been seen as an impossible solution to take offline. It seems every solution out there focuses either on documents or pages, but rarely does anyone even attempt to try to take offline the wikis, calendars, and forums. With their YML solution, as admins you can describe the most complex lists and templates. Out of the box, all of Office 365 is designed by default to be able to be cached and taken offline, of course you still have to be careful about depth and size. As a result, there are settings to control both of these settings.
How Do I Set Up CacheFront?
There’s a server, client or web client. There’s the centralized Mobolize Management Console that has the statistics and management, which is also used to monitor the CacheFront clients. Then there’s the CacheFront client which is installed onto end user systems for online and offline caching. The client can be pushed and all settings can be trimmed based on the users. There are “headless” options as well that provide the caching without any knowledge of the users. There’s a web client that can be used to manage the sites and reading list that’s much more user friendly and simplifies the process for the user.
Figure 5: Mobolize CacheFront Reading List
Pricing & Licensing
There are three flavors of CacheFront…
CacheFront Enterprise – Highly complex customized web applications demanding offline needs. Provides offline read and editing of documents and forms. That’s right! You heard me right. This is the one that provides access to editing forms offline. Enterprise – $72/user per year (discounts for larger)*
CacheFront Professional – Focus on remote employees and traveling users. Offline page browsing, document reading, and offline editing of documents with sync up the next time they’re online. $36/user per year*
CacheFront Express – Speeding up web applications and network optimization with headless client, client caching and access to SaaS console. Express -$18/year per user
*Please note that all purchases of CacheFront Express and CacheFront Enterprise require a minimum order of 100 seats.
Reality Check and My Thoughts on CacheFront
I was pleased to hear how they were addressing the problems of the last mile. Seeing a client solution that works right in the browser in a transparent way was pretty sweet. They did a great job of really understanding what is needed from a network perspective. I’ve spent a lot of time with SharePoint deployments and one of the biggest complaints is always about speed. SharePoint is too slow. So it does make sense to keep users working when things get slow. The solution working with Office 365 was pretty cool, too.
Now, let’s dig in. Currently, the solution is only available for Internet Explorer and on PCs. Macs aren’t on the radar, but there is plan to support Chrome and Firefox. I’m also pleased to hear their big plans to take on mobile phones and tablets. This is consistent with the Microsoft pattern.
I do think some will be surprised by the SaaS model built into the management. The reporting is a great benefit of the SaaS model, but I think some customers will be taken back. Despite the emphasis on security, I see that with some customers this will be a red or yellow flag and worth mentioning or worth looking into, based on customer needs.
While I can see that Office 365 is more predictable, there will be work to do for environments that have custom lists and pages. That does need to be a consideration and validated for your own environment.
The numbers look great, the solution is exciting. Getting better performance for users with the ability to focus on departments that need it the most really makes sense. Obviously, you’ll have to run the numbers and dig in, but I have to say the reports are impressive.
Get better performance for your top employees and manage them in different groups to ensure it is seamless. It’s a great story. While I would prefer to see Chrome support, I can see that’s on the short-term road map, and I’m excited about the possibilities with mobile and tablets. Mobolize CacheFront is in a great place and in many ways is a niche player that competes against expensive network equipment managed by folks who really don’t want to be spending too much time thinking about application needs.
The potential for endpoint solutions and gathering rich reporting and metrics is exciting and the win-win solution with those most important in the business is a lot of potential.
If you’ve been getting a lot of high-profile performance or business continuity complaints from your key business partners on performance, then you know where to look. I look forward to seeing their further progress into the tablets and mobile space.
Questions? Contact Mobolize at firstname.lastname@example.org
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