Blue Coat VP Nigel Hawthorn smiles when asked if he wishes that the company had kept its former name of Cacheflow, now that it is getting into WAN acceleration. After all, "Blue Coat" doesn't mean a lot to most people - but then, as Hawthorn points out, "Cacheflow" was all too easily misunderstood as well, especially over the phone.

As Cacheflow, the company specialised in high performance caches for content delivery, but changed its name to Blue Coat four years ago and focused instead on gateway devices for web, e-mail and IM security - the new company name is supposedly a reference to police uniform, and therefore security. The web caching is still there underneath, but as part of a proxy server.

"Seven years ago, Cacheflow was talking about distributed content and speeding up access to applications," Hawthorn says. "In those days it was all HTTP - no authentication or anything - and it was all service providers, because they realised they could get competitive advantage from faster access, as well as saving money on bandwidth.

"For the last three years we've been talking security and have done very few sales of pure web caching. Meanwhile, webcaching competitors such as Inktomi are dead - they didn't do the security features enterprises wanted, and they didn't scale down."

He adds though that Blue Coat still has a cashflow of around $40-50 million a quarter from its webcaching business, and is listed by IDC as the no.1 supplier in that area, followed by Network Appliance, Microsoft (for ISA Server) and Cisco.

Caching still in demand
"Service providers are still good business, especially in places where WAN bandwidth is expensive, such as Africa and the Middle East, or in countries where the government wants to filter Internet access," he says.

The company was founded by a Canadian university professor, who had already been one of the founders of Network Appliance. He and his students had developed an operating system to get data on and off disks as fast as possible, and Cacheflow was set up to commercialise that.

"Caching is a very odd application," Hawthorn explains. "You want the disk as full as possible, which is difficult for most operating systems, and you also need to know what to throw away to make room for new content. That's not the oldest content, it's the least popular.

"Plus, the data is not that important. It doesn't actually matter if you lose something from the cache - you're not the primary store, so you can always go and get it again."

So now the company has taken its expertise in both security and caching, and applied it to accelerating WAN applications - and in particular, secure web (HTTPS) apps. Hawthorn claims it wasn't all that hard to do, although he admits that the feature set is not as broad as some rivals.

He says much of the business of application acceleration is to compensate for the deficiencies of protocols that were not designed with WAN operation in mind. He adds that while Blue Coat's competitive testing shows it to have specific advantages in some areas, in others the rivals are relatively close.

"Our testing shows that we're all most efficient on the most poorly-designed protocol - CIFS," he says. "Well, there's a surprise!"

Heading for SoHo
The other thing that all the application acceleration companies are trying to do is grow their deployments by bringing out cheaper devices for small office/home office (SoHo) and branch use.

Hawthorn says Blue Coat already has a €2000 gateway that can now be used to accelerate web apps too - although of course security only needs one device, but acceleration needs one at each end of the link.

"I think there is an opportunity for a sub-$1000 security gateway, but it needs to be simple to set up and use," he adds, noting though that the question is whether Blue Coat has the right organisation to sell at that sort of price.

The problem is the cost of sales and support. For example, the company has already developed a consumer version of its security software as a parental control for children accessing the web, but it's not for sale - it's free.

"It's called K9 and it takes an online version of our WebFilter database and runs it under Windows XP, allowing you to block or allow sites by category," Hawthorn says. "We even have one user who's installed it to stop himself gambling online when he comes home from the pub.

"We have to give it away free though because we don't have the systems to charge $19.99 for it."