Google offers to accelerate Web servers with new software

Web server administrators who wish to trim bandwidth costs and hasten the delivery of their Web pages should take a look at a newly updated free module from Google designed to automate a number of techniques used to compress content.

Simply installing the module, called PageSpeed, could cut bandwidth usage by a significant amount, noted Mano Marks, a member of the Google developer platform team, who posted a blog item announcing the module update Thursday.

PageSpeed, designed to analyze and optimize Website performance, works with both the Apache and Nginx Web server software. Google estimates that using a new feature of PageSpeed called “Optimizing For Bandwidth” could reduce bandwidth needed to convey a large Web site by about 37 percent.

Marks noted there are already a number of techniques commonly used to conserve bandwidth, such as compressing JavaScript scripts and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) before they are sent out, or sizing images to a more appropriate resolution for a browser.

Such techniques can take work to automate though, and make debugging more difficult should something go awry.

PageSpeed does not require any additional work to run, once installed in the Web server software.

The technology is based on software that Google built for its Chrome browser, which the company found cut bandwidth usage by 50 percent. The software, however, only works for Chrome, and users must opt-in to use the technology. The software was also limited by its inability to work with traffic secured by Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption.

PageSpeed, in contrast, can work with any browser, and can work in both HTTP and HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer) mode. The software compresses and transcodes images in place, and minimizes JavaScript and CSS automatically.

PageSpeed has a number of additional techniques to further speed delivery of Web pages, such as deferring delivery of JavaScript or images until they are required. These advanced optimization techniques can be run by enabling them in the PageSpeed configuration file.

At this point, PageSpeed only works on Apache and Nginx, which collectively run about 57 percent of all the Web servers on the Internet, according to the most recent monthly Web survey from Netcraft.

Those using other Web servers, such as Microsoft’s Internet Information Services or the Apache Traffic Server, can still use PageSpeed by using Apache or Nginx as a proxy server. The Google development team is currently porting the module to these additional server software packages.

Bandwidth optimization has been a topic of heightened interest in the past few years, because more users are accessing the Web through their portable telephones, which tend to be more limited in the amount of bandwidth they can access, and often come with caps on how much data they can download.

A working group within the World Wide Web Consortium, for instance, is working on a new HTML element, called Picture, that would allow a browser to specify the best image to download from a range of copies of that image offered in various sizes and resolutions. In settings with limited bandwidth, a browser can download a smaller image with a lower resolution.

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