March 10, 1997

The bottleneck blues
It's your own fault. You wanted everybody to get online. But now the Net's as crowded as a Bourbon Street dive on a Saturday night. Time to find a cure for those mean ol' blues.

By Lawrence Aragon

  PC Week InsideLunch hour. Almost everybody clears out of the office. Seems like a perfect time to jump on the Web for some high-octane cruising. But it's just the opposite: The network grinds to a standstill as PointCast launches on nearly every desktop of this Fortune 1000 company in Silicon Valley. It's another bad case of the bottleneck blues.

But don't blame the popular offline browser. Or any of the other gee-whiz apps on display this week at the Internet World trade show in Los Angeles. In fact, you really can't point the finger at any one source for this problem. Bottlenecks clog the entire system-from sluggish home PC connections to cranky LANs to the overburdened backbone. And the system is so complex that once you clear a blockage for one group of users, another group shows up singin' the blues.

Now, this might sound cruel, but those sorrowful strains are a sweet melody to vendors who can offer a cure. Novell, for one, will demonstrate new software in two weeks that promises to more than double the connection speed between intranets and the Net. But major software and hardware vendors don't have a lock on this gig. Take Cisco. It's been touting its "big fast router" since early 1996, yet it still hasn't delivered.

This space is wide open for wily startups, and they're flooding in, armed with cash from top-drawer venture firms, such as Kleiner Perkins, and corporate sugar daddies, such as AT&T.; Dozens of new companies, including NetSpeed, OnLive and Ciena, are delivering new technologies for potential multibillion-dollar markets. So, entrepreneurs, take heart: There's no end to the number of bottlenecks, and there's plenty more venture capital to go around.

Read on for a look at some of these companies:

  • The bandwidth riff: The market's wide open for startups offering next-generation remote-access technologies.
  • Low-down latencies: Startups offer "pep pills" for the Internet infrastructure.
  • Backbone blues: Ciena has just one product and three customers, but it's making waves with its WDM equipment.
  • Plus: Columnist Mitch Ratcliffe says there's only one way to fix the bottleneck: Net welfare.

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