Mirror Image Gets Smart (Content)

In April of 2003, EContent reported on the strides Mirror Image had taken in moving beyond content delivery, Web computing, and streaming, towards offering a complete end-to-end package to its Global 2000 customers. January brings a major announcement as the company unveils its new positioning as an "adaptive network for smart content," whereby it bundles content management and content delivery solutions and makes aggressive moves into application and transaction support.

The idea behind the solution is to provide infrastructure services for the IT department to offload IT services on, allow marketing departments more control over when and how information is disseminated to consumers, and make the most relevant content available to fulfill consumers' needs. "This is not a shrink-wrapped service as a CDN would be; it is highly adaptive," says Bob Hammond, Mirror Image's CTO. "We are now moving smart content across an adaptive network," he says, invoking the phrase Mirror Image coined to explain the direction they are moving, versus some of their big name competitors, such as Akamai.

Underpinning Mirror Image's Smart Content Delivery Solutions is their Content Access Point (CAP) technology, which manages content, application, and transaction delivery via twenty one facilities throughout the world. Each CAP is redundant at two layers and has enough capacity to handle far more than its given load. According to Hammond, the Paris CAP, for example, can handle most of Western Europe should the need arise. Were a CAP to go completely offline, it is automatically taken out of rotation and its load is redistributed to other CAPs that make sense geographically.

Hammond cites relevant content as singly the most important to consumers, and Mirror Image has developed a way to determine what is most relevant to a particular consumer, no matter where they are on the globe. The company found that their clients, most of which fall into three verticals—retail, advertising/media, and software—required a step in between a request and the delivery of a response that interpreted what was actually required. Thus Mirror Image developed their Smart Content solutions that are managed using client-controlled Rules Engines.

Using the customizable Rules Engine, a company can specify time-based targeting, image rotation, imaging, and other custom rules—including language settings. (Instead of basing language settings on geographical locations, which do not necessarily determine a user's language preferences, Mirror Image's Smart Solutions look at the language settings on a user's browser.) The Rules Engine is XML-based and, according to the company, is as easy to implement as customizing the rules and pushing the "Publish" button. Actions entered into the Rules Engine interface are directly uploaded to CAPs. "This is not only for the IT guys any longer," says Hammond. "It's now for the business folks too."

On the consumer end, the Smart Content solution handles the content delivery and capacity issues surrounding page load times using CAP technology, which distributes content globally. The Smart Content solution offers clients unlimited capacity and reliability, "because of the CAP failover model," says Hammond, which a company is unlikely to be able to provide for themselves because of budgetary or network limitations. The solution is also designed to handle surges of customers, as they are off-loaded onto the Mirror Image network instead of remaining behind a company's firewall.

In general, consumers want a better experience, including shorter page load times and relevant content, which forces marketing to seek out a more flexible and dynamic solution that allows them to quickly respond to the customers' needs. In doing so, marketing often battles with the IT department, which can not afford to relinquish capacity or to implement new strategies. The battle is "very much a cascade problem," says Hammond. "In the normal loop, marketing figures out what's going on, asks for a change, then IT makes it happen," but that unnecessarily burdens an already strapped IT department, so, "marketing folks want to be able to quickly respond to consumers without a big IT production." Since the company primarily sells to business owners, Mirror Image leaves it up to individual clients to ensure that the marketing department (or others responsible for updates) knows what they have the authority to change or publish.

In an effort to truly deliver an end-to-end solution, Mirror Image has teamed up with partners such as Scene7 for dynamic imaging and Fireclick for business analytics, a range of which are provided for clients to monitor and apply as they see fit. At press time, price points for the solution had not been finalized, although Hammond expects they will be determined on a transactional basis.