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July - 2013 - issue > Cover Story
Instart Logic Distrupting Web Application Delivery
SI Team
Monday, July 1, 2013
In Silicon Valley, accidental product pivots are the stuff of legend. While searching for a way to sell his wife’s Pez candy dispensers, Pierre Omidyar accidentally stumbled upon the multibillion dollar idea, eBay. A small check-in business called Burbn realized that its users were more interested in posting retro photos. Hence, Instagram was originated and it culminated into viral adoption around the globe and a spectacular billion dollar exit. Examples like these are plenty in the Valley and the latest name to join this unique list is Instart Logic, the provider of a new technology approach to the challenge of rich web content delivery.

Manav Mital, Raghu Venkat and Hariharan Kolam – the CEO, Chief Product Officer and CTO respectively, of Instart Logic had originally set out to build a company which would publish really cool games online. To make those games run screamingly fast, they built an entirely new technology – the world’s first Web Application Streaming Network and thus built a product which possessed the capability of disrupting the staid and stagnant but still massive CDN (content delivery network) sector. What started as a quest to publish video games has today turned into a dynamic company which is being heralded as the next big thing that will radically change the way the internet gets delivered. Having caught the interest of customers and investors alike Instart Logic has emerged from the stealth mode and is creating ripples in the market.

What’s surprising is that their product has only been in production less than a year and the company is already serving millions of Web application end users around the world. Envisioned as a secret sauce to power, the trio’s game startup, Instart Logic’s technology has evolved to become a key monetization and engagement technology for a wide variety of Web publishers in diverse industries such as e-commerce, travel, media, and enterprise SaaS.

Identifying Bigger Opportunities

Instart Logic’s is the quintessential Silicon Valley tale. Raghu Venkat, the now CPO was hooked to video games. His favorite was StarCraft, but he played several others as well. However his battle was with the download speed of video games. He confided in his friends, Hariharan Kolam and Manav Mital who were his colleagues at Aster Data, an early Big Data pioneer, purchased in 2011 by data warehouse giant Teradata for $263 million. Venkat’s frustration gave birth to a brilliant idea. The three then went on to build a company that would create lighting-fast online games and build a community and portal for gamers to connect and interact.

They pitched their idea to prominent angel investors, who loved the team and in spite of having some doubts on the idea, decided to make a bet on the team. Soon the trio realized that their investors’ instincts were right, and the market opportunity for their idea was limited. What happened next was a textbook “pivot” in which they spent months talking to various investors and entrepreneurs, and finally realized that the network was a much bigger business opportunity than their original plan. The team then came up with a master plan to use the technology they had invented for the gaming portal and apply it to the more general websites and applications owned by other publishers. This new plan did the trick for them and the company impressed their angel investors, and also several top tier VC firms who came forward to lead their Series A round of funding.

Instart Logic’s success can be attributed to the fact that the team focused on solving one of the most critical issues that torment every internet user today and has thus created a niche for itself. “We are addressing a multi-billion dollar opportunity that tackles the two biggest challenges the Internet faces today,” explains Mital, CEO of Instart Logic. “No other solution has been designed to address the performance bottleneck of Web applications in the ‘last mile’ that lies between the edges of the network to the user's device. There is an overwhelming trend of end users connecting to the Internet using different wireless connections causing a severe data congestion in the last mile. This congestion is further compounded by the growing complexity and size of Web applications. These two trends completely disrupt legacy CDN solutions by existing vendors who were all busy making investments in incremental, component-level enhancements,” he adds.

Solving this problem instead requires rethinking from the ground-up; how end users experience web applications and websites and designing a future-proof solution for next generation Web apps that will be completely personalized and dynamically composed. In a nutshell, Instart Logic is building a product for a future where the static Internet is a thing of the past and technologies designed to cache, move or propagate static images and content are no longer relevant.

The Success Factor: Instart’s Radical New Approach

To establish unique differentiation, the trio built an entirely new type of service that actually has two key components. On its servers, Instart Logic slices up the various objects that make up a web application into smaller pieces and then sends them as a stream to the application. Inside the application, the service injects a very lightweight JavaScript virtualization layer that executes between the application and the browser. This layer then loads the most important pieces of the web app first and then continues loading the rest in the background.

For example, Instart Logic’s virtualization layer might notice in an online sports game most users click on a hyperlink residing beneath a large image of a soccer field. To allow users to click on that link even more quickly, and interact with a Web application faster, Instart slices the image file into smaller chunks. It then assigns priority to the image and serves enough of the image to the device to make the picture recognizable and clickable for users. After that initial step, Instart’s intelligent servers continue to stream pieces of the image up to the user's device until the entire image is present on the device.

By chunking up common types of Web applications, Instart Logic allows game publishers to use higher resolution images without impacting performance. Many publishers have in the past resorted to lower resolution images, sacrificing beauty for speed. Instart Logic eliminates this trade-off. Similarly, because users can click on images and interact with games far more quickly, users stay more engaged. This reduces bounce rates and increases virtual currency transactions. Engaged users are more likely to play for longer periods, to return to the game for more sessions and to tell their friends about their experience.

From Delivery to Streaming

Unlike CDNs, which rely on caching and delivery optimizations of website components and image compression that degrades the user experience, Instart Logic introduces a new paradigm called web application streaming. To date, streaming has primarily focused on videos and specific desktop applications, such as Microsoft Windows. Instart Logic is the first company to bring this technology to Web applications at Internet scale.

“This whole shift is from the world of delivery to the world of streaming. Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to watch a video online, you selected the file compression type and server to download it from, and then waited. Next came Real Player and Adobe with video streaming technologies that made the user experience infinitely better,” explains Kolam. “Instart Logic is doing this now for Web applications – making them intelligent and allowing users to interact with them faster by streaming in key assets as needed and by priority.”

This shift to Web application streaming represents a sea change on multiple fronts. Instart Logic’s approach requires rapid analysis and true intelligence divining how users want to interact with Web applications. This is increasingly required for Web applications that serve up fully personalized content and images, customized on the fly. For example, Instart Logic customer Gogobot, a leading travel site with tens of millions of unique visitors, pulls data directly from a user’s social graph and surfaces reviews and images culled from members of that graph. As a result, no two users see the exact same information. “Handling this type of dynamism is impossible for CDNs which rely entirely on caching but cannot handle 100 percent personalization,” explains Mital.

With over a dozen patents pending, a fast growing list of marquee customers and a team of top talent from the likes of Google, Akamai, Citrix, Mozilla, Qualcomm and Cotendo, Instart Logic has attracted money from the hottest investors in Silicon Valley. Their bellwether investors, including VC firms Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures and Tenaya Capital, have collectively invested $26 million in Instart Logic.
“Today’s web and mobile users expect near instant delivery of applications, but the explosion of apps combined with the proliferation of mobile devices has resulted in debilitating performance issues that degrade the user experience,” says Peter Levine, partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “Enter Instart Logic, which has developed a unique and elegant solution that was built from the ground up to resolve the mobile bottleneck and transform the user experience.”

To accomplish this feat, the Instart Logic service requires no software downloads or hardware installs, either by end users or Web publishers and network operators. All that is needed to make the service work is a standard web browser such as Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox or Apple’s Safari, running on users' smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC.

Within a year, Instart Logic had customers running production Web applications through Instart Logic’s infrastructure. The list of Instart Logic customers has continued to grow and included Kongregate (GameStop’s online portal), fast-growing travel application Gogobot, and “Game of Thrones” (derived from the blockbuster HBO television series). "When Game of Thrones decided to launch on our service we had no idea how much traffic they were going to serve. We knew it was big. It is a huge brand,” says Mital. “Overnight the amount of traffic on our service went up by 10x. Everyone was gathered around the screen watching the numbers.”

Despite this rapid growth, Instart Logic has maintained a 99.9999 percent uptime rate with no significant unplanned service outages. A distributed network of servers and load balancers, housed in 30 geographically distributed locations, is engineered to both move streaming computations as close as possible to end users and to engineer total system redundancy. The team that designed this network has done it before for very large CDN companies and, so they knew how to quickly scale a highly reliable global service around Web application streaming.

Talent: Critical Ingredient for Growth
Between the top venture backers and their own experiences across Google, Akamai, Citrix, Facebook, Cotendo and other companies, the early hires at Instart Logic have brought in rock star talent. The trio has assembled a dynamic team to continue innovating products in the crucial, cutting-edge realms of application virtualization, and the Real-Time Web. Because the initial team at Instart Logic has been of such high quality, Mital, Venkat and Kolam are highly careful in their hiring. Instart Logic is just as eager to hire engineers in Bangalore as in the U.S. “We treat every engineer in this company as an equal, no matter where they work. The quality of the guys we have in India is equally tremendous as the quality of the guys we have here in the U.S.,” adds Kolam.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of resumes have poured in for open positions. The word has quickly gotten out that Instart Logic is trying things in technology no one had done before. “Everybody wants to work on innovative things. But in most cases people work on complex things. There is a difference,” explains Mital. “Complex things involve problems that have been solved before. A Web application streaming service for the scale of the Internet - no one has solved for that before."

The three founders are exceptionally low-key and prize a lack of egos in their workplace. They are plain-spoken and calm. But they have a passion burning inside them, to solve big engineering challenges and to build a significant, profitable company for the long term.

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