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The technology ends a long drought in fundamental caching advances, says Jim Gettys, a coauthor of the HTTP specification that serves as the basis of Internet communication. While it’s increasingly feasible for a school in a poor country to buy hundreds of gigabytes of hard-disk memory, Gettys says, those same schools–if they use today’s best available software–can typically afford only enough RAM to support tens of gigabytes of cached content. With HashCache, a classroom equipped with pretty much any kind of computers, even castoff PCs, could store and cheaply access one terabyte of Web data. That’s enough to store all of Wikipedia’s content, for example, or all the coursework freely available from colleges such as Rice University and MT.
Even with new fiber-optic cables connecting East Africa to the Internet, thousands of students at some African universities share connections that have roughly the same speed as a home DSL line, says Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “These universities are extremely bandwidth constrained,” he says. “All their students want to have computers but almost never have sufficient bandwidth. This innovation makes it significantly cheaper to run a very large caching server.”
Pai plans to license HashCache in a way that makes it free for nonprofits but leaves the door open to future commercialization. And that means that it could democratize Internet access in wealthy countries, too.
A one-terabyte hard-disk cache could give students in a poor country much faster access to Web content. But operating such a cache can be expensive. HashCache offers a way to cut costs.