"The Internet is broken. It works just because there\u2019s a lot of it, not because it\u2019s good," says Adam Joffe, director of technical operations at Sony Online Entertainment in San Diego. "The protocols that determine how packets get from place to place have nothing to do with performance or cost."That\u2019s the problem Joffe is trying to work around as a beta user of new software from San Jose, Calif.-based startup NetVmg. Along with rivals Network Physics, Opnix, RouteScience and Sockeye Networks, NetVmg is developing path optimization products, which aim to wrestle control of the so-called middle mile?that troublesome space between the first mile where data travels through a network toward the Internet and the last mile before data arrives at the customer\u2019s computer.Game players who download the action game Tanarus from Sony.com?then log on to compete over the Internet?may not realize it but Joffe is carefully monitoring where on the Internet his routers direct traffic. At any time, any one of Joffe\u2019s ISPs could suffer performance problems. If so, Joffe wants to temporarily avoid using that ISP; if not, he wants to use the cheapest option.Joffe is mum on how much money the software has saved, but he says that a vast majority of players surveyed indicated that performance was better or the same as before the introduction of NetVmg. "Users won\u2019t necessarily see all of a sudden that their routes are faster, but over time [those connections] won\u2019t go bad," he says.Each vendor has its own approach, of course. While NetVmg\u2019s is purely software, Sockeye provides a service that uses Akamai Technology\u2019s worldwide network of servers to find the best route. Opnix, on the other hand, uses a combination of equipment and software to do the job."You can\u2019t choose this hop, then this hop," says Greg Howard, principal analyst and founder at San Andreas, Calif.-based The HTRC Group, who\u2019s paying close attention to these new tools. "You can say, right now, this connection is better performing. There are always spikes in performance. If you can eliminate them or dramatically reduce them, then you can dramatically increase the performance of the website."