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Spinning a Faster Web Spinning a Faster Web

Spinning a Faster Web

by Nikhil Swaminathan
August 5, 2009

A technology that is speeding up the developing world's internet connections.Internet connections in the developing world are getting a boost thanks to a technology conceived to improve corporate IT. In Africa's colleges, for example, internet connections are split between so many users that speeds would remind Americans of surfing on Prodigy. HashCache, a computing method developed by a team at Princeton University to store internet data in a more efficient way, could jolt those connections and cut costs.Here's how it works: When you call up a website, you don't download all the content directly from the site. Rather, the request goes through a proxy server, which stores oft-accessed information on web pages-a process called "caching." "If you go to CNN.com now and then go to CNN.com later, the proxy stores pages on CNN.com that haven't changed," explains Anirudh Badam, a computer science graduate student at Princeton. Proxies store data using a process involving expensive random access memory. A lot of RAM requires a bigger box, so proxies are typically large and hard to maintain.  In the developing world, one proxy typically serves multiple schools, further slowing connection speeds.HashCache uses a more efficient method to access stored files, cutting all but a tenth of the RAM out of the caching process. This makes the information easier for multiple computers to access more quickly, speeding up slow connections and taking up less space. A push from One Laptop Per Child's former VP of software engineering, Jim Gettys, convinced the Princeton group that the developing world needed its tech. Using HashCache, a school can use a single laptop (capable of caching the entirety of Wikipedia) as its own proxy. Universities in Ghana and Nigeria are currently using HashCache, and Badam reports that the technology is now bundled with OLPC's efforts. "As soon as OLPC deployed, we made arrangements to deploy HashCache," says Badam, adding that schools in Peru and Uruguay are now making arrangements to procure laptops. "By the end of August or September this year, we may make a huge deployment."Photo by One Laptop per Child (via Flickr)Return to interactive site

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