Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Shlomi Gian, the newly appointed CEO of PacketZoom. Shlomi moved to PacketZoom just as they secured an additional $4.3M of venture funding to scale the company and support expansion. PacketZoom, whose customers include the leading gaming app Glu Mobile, was founded in 2013 and seeks to enhance the mobile app experience by removing roadblocks that affect speed and performance in the last mobile mile. PacketZoom calls it the Mobile Expresslane™.
The device-based approach to content acceleration is a game-changer because it directly responds to the challenges created by an increasingly mobile world. We asked Shlomi to discuss with us what’s on the horizon for PacketZoom, the qualities that set it apart from traditional CDNs and other competitors, and how they are changing the mobile content delivery ecosystem.
Tell us about your move to PacketZoom and provide us a brief overview of the company?
I’ve been in the mobile space for 12 years, testing, monitoring and eventually improving mobile performance at DeviceAnywhere, Keynote Systems, Cotendo, and finally Akamai, where I co-founded the Emerging Mobile Business Unit. I’m very passionate about performance for mobile devices. I came across PacketZoom about six months ago. I was immediately struck by how Chetan and team had taken a completely unique approach to this technology stack that was like nothing else I had seen in the market. Having discovered this unpolished gem, this company seemed to be exactly the right fit for my goto market experience.
In the world today, half of Internet requests are coming from mobile apps, which presents two challenges. First, the CDN PoP is too far from the device (about 70% of the latency). Second, CDNs are blind to end devices. They can’t tell if a user is connecting from a 2G, 3G, 4G, or WiFi network. They also can’t see metrics such as latency, packet loss, RF signal etc. When they don’t have that information, they have to guess, and guessing will get it wrong more often than right.
TCP was designed forty years ago to operate under fairly stable network conditions, and things have changed a lot since then. Back then, we were working under unknown but stable conditions. This is not the case for mobile users, because conditions are constantly changing, even through something as simple as moving from one side of a room to another. As a result, TCP efficiency in the last mile is poor and we end up with too many round trips over a slow connection which are required to deliver content.
PacketZoom decided to fix the last mobile mile the same way that CDNs fixed the middle mile a decade ago. PacketZoom is placed in front of a CDN and works like a CDN enhancer, adjusting packet content decisions in real time based on the conditions for the end device. The product is easy to use and doesn’t require a single line of code change–it’s drag and drop. Your traffic goes through our SDK and you can decide how much of the traffic to accelerate, which kind of traffic to accelerate, and what type of networks you want to use it on. You can change this in real time with no delay.
What sets you apart from the competition who provide mobile last mile optimizations?
PacketZoom is uniquely positioned as a CDN enhancer and not a CDN replacement. We do not replace your CDN but rather make it better by handling the last mile smarter.
The service was designed for developers with ease of integration and use in mind. No DNS, infrastructure or client code changes are required. We also built into the product a complete A/B Testing platform that allows our customers to benchmark PacketZoom against their existing setup at minimal effort.
We track technical KPIs such as speed, throughput an connection rescue as well as business KPIs that our customers care about such as session length, CPM (for ads), user engagement and user retention. We are able to do so since we “see” all the http traffic.
Our competitors also developed tech that works for mobile, but one of the main differences between us and them is that while they only focus on content acceleration, they don’t assist with session assurance. PacketZoom not only provides acceleration, but minimizes TCP disconnects, which could affect up to 7% of all user sessions on certain US networks and up to 15% of the sessions in countries like India. PacketZoom offers full control over the protocol, which allows it to rescue TCP up to 80% of dropped TCP connections.
In addition, the competition only offers protocol optimization (i.e. transparent proxy), whereas we combine protocol optimization with device-based and server-based caching, which allows for much higher performance improvement and as a bi-factor CDN cost reduction.
How do you handle caching?
Caching is the ideal form of optimization because content requests are served from a closer and faster storage. Storage or local application cache is common with Android or iOS, but the risk of uncontrolled cache can make it the enemy of any IT pro. Bad code and bad content can get stuck in a cache for days. PacketZoom has built an optimization layer and an admin layer on top of the cache. We can control these micro-caches, change their size, purge the cache, etc. in real time, allowing it to speed up performance without causing any problems.
Do you work with all mobile devices? And does the SDK only work for mobile apps, or is there a web-based version that supports sites like WordPress?
We work with all mobile devices, and can also support most hybrid apps. However for browsers, PacketZoom won’t work because there’s no place for the SDK to live. That’s a design decision we are comfortable with given the high usage of mobile apps vs. mobile web.
Are you primarily targeting gaming apps?
We focus on gaming and social, travel, retail, and entertainment, with the exception of live video, which requires high investment and is not highly profitable. Gaming is a good fit for us because for a company like Glu Mobile, who has titles with hundred of thousands of DAUs (daily active users), CDN’s only brings in a marginal value,. For adaptive speed and performance, you need an SDK. Our SDK helps (a) cache static game content locally and significantly reduce the CDN bill and (b) rescue high % of connection drops and allow game growth even in locations with poor networks.
How do you price your product?
Unlike CDNs where you have to use a third party tool to show business impact of the service, with an SDK, you can measure intrasession latency, conversion, CPM, and user engagement. Our pricing model is based on DAUs, because that’s the value we bring. In the future we might consider new pricing models but, we’d like to stay away from the CDN cost based per GB model.
What is something you want but don’t have right now?
Right now, I’m very happy with the state of the product we have and the market is showing tremendous appetite for this product already. The nature of this product is such that it’s breaking new ground in the market. We are always coming up with new ways of helping our customers and the product team has a pipeline of requested features extending into the foreseeable future. (We’re hiring).
We are going to put in place the the strongest possible sales team to expand the product reach in the marketplace in new innovative ways that were not possible before. We have developed a game changing platform that will make customers who are used to buying CDN services very comfortable adding PacketZoom in front of their existing CDNs.
Today, we call customers to engage with us in two simple ways. First any developer can “take our SDK for a ride” by downloading and registering online – we have developers doing it every day and the entire process takes less than 15 minutes. Second, business owners and operation managers can request a performance assessment of their application to better understand the opportunity to improve things. They get a performance report that shows the how application behave from thousands of real devices over real networks for the common use case. It compares the experience with and without PacketZoom.
Existing customers are able to get from PacketZoom ongoing performance reports that focus on Business KPIs that matters to them in addition to technical KPIs (i.e speed, throughput and continuity) that enables this. We can also able to show them the CDN savings.
To me PacketZoom is a solution that the market has been asking for too long. To me, PacketZoom technology is the easiest product I have sold in a decade.