Editor’s note: “Cloud computing” has become pervasive today, but you may not remember that a Durham startup in 2002 helped set the stage for that development.

Provio CEO Gordon Kass used what he called the “cloud” to utilize “downtime” on PCs regardless of geography. “Cloud” showed up the first time in Local Tech Wire on Jan. 28 in a story about Porvio and how slow websites were hurting web sales.

Kass sold Porvio later in 2002 but remains very active in the tech business. He currently is vice president of engineering at Churchill Navigation in the San Francisco Bay area.

Here’s a look back to the origins of “cloud” usage as part of our 15th anniversary observation.

Slowing Internet and Web Sites Are a Big Drag on Consumer Sales, Porivo Says

DURHAM — Triangle-based Porivo, which uses distributed computing on thousands of PCs to test Web speed at the user’s end, says many Web sites are poky. That’s a costly problem when customers bail.

Porivo, a Research Triangle-based seller of Web services, says many Web pages are so slow that online merchants lose a significant number of customers to frustrated people giving up on slow sites.

Porivo uses distributed computing to gather data. Distributed computing software borrows the downtime on thousands of geographically dispersed PCs to perform tasks.

The technique is probably best known for its use in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. SETI borrows the PC downtime of volunteers to analyze data from radio telescopes hunting for signals from alien worlds in outer space.

Test where it really counts

Gordon Kass, chief executive officer of Porivo, tells Local Tech Wire that by testing Web speed at the place where it really counts, the end user, distributed computing provides strategically important business information.

“I was on the other side at top ten Web sites such as Disney.net and other places,” said Kass, “and we knew the data from the measurement companies was kind of useless.”

Kass says the reason is that companies like Ikami measure Internet performance “in the middle of the cloud. They’re taking measurements in the wrong place.”

Web sites, Kass said, “are a bunch of computer hardware and software running somewhere. On the other end you have the user. Between them and the user, you have this big Internet cloud.” That cloud includes the Internet backbone conditions, congestion, geographic location, Internet Service Providers and third-party content among other things.

The only place to measure that makes sense, Kass explains, “is at the end user.”

There, Kass adds, Porivo measurements show that the Internet is slowing significantly.

“About 80 percent of users are on dialup. Put a stop clock next to your site downloading from a dialup connection, you’ll see how bad it is. Some pages are taking 20 to 45 seconds.”

Speed is essential

Why does this matter?

“It matters because it costs companies money,” Kass says.

He cites Boston Consulting Group research that shows 43 percent of Internet shoppers failed to complete an attempted purchase in the last year. Nearly half cited slow Web performance as the reason they abandoned the sale.

Other research companies have estimated that slow Web performance costs online businesses $25 billion a year.

Michael Brader-Araje, founder of Triangle-based truePilot, a seed-stage investment firm and of OpenSite Technologies, maker of online auction software that sold to Seibel Systems for $542 million during the Net heyday, tells LTW, “You’ll wait in line 20 minutes to buy a toy at a store. You won’t do that online, where the customer gives you 10 seconds.”

Shawn Ramsey-Kroboth, a partner with truePilot who is known for her public relations work with Internet companies, adds “You shop online for the convenience. If it’s not convenient, what’s the point?”

According to Kass, companies can make informed decisions about improving speed and service based on Porivo’s data.

“Once companies see how they’re doing, they can change things,” Kass says. “We can measure different ISPs, geographies, connection speeds, slice and dice different ways.”

Information about a Web site’s performance versus a company’s top competitor’s site is essential, Kass said. Using the technology it calls peerReview, Porivo discovered during an industry comparison test that the Sheraton Hotel Web site is twice as slow as the Hyatt Hotel Web site.

“Sheraton is part of Starwood Corp.,” Kass said. “When you type in Sheraton, the browser goes to Starwood.com/Sheraton and the redirect takes six seconds. It should not take so long. They probably are not aware of it.”

Porivo charges from $850 to $3,500 per month per URL to test Web sites. It offers the information it obtains sliced and diced in a salad like variety of ways, by geography, type of connection, type of PC, and more. Cost varies according to measurement frequency and how far the customer wants to drill down into the information. “Some companies want to measure once an hour, others measure every 15 minutes,” he said.

Porivo has had 15,000 people register to download the software so the company can use their machines. But on any given day about 5,000 PCs are active. “That’s enough to conduct 500,000 measures a day, more than we need,” Kass explains.

Porivo pays users from $5 to $7 a month for using their PCs.

Seeking more funding

Founded in late 1999, Porivo received seed funding of $200,000 in January 2001 and a first round $2 million venture financing by the Aurora Funds, Durham, in August last year.

The companies customers include Akami, Cambridge, Mass.-based e-business services seller, Sun Microsystems, of Palo Alto, Calif., and AT&T. “Business has been tough the last several months, but we’re making our goals,” Kass says.

Kass adds that the company is raising another round of from $5 million to $7 million. The company is on target for sales, but Kass admits “it’s been tough in this market.”

If successful with peerReview, Porivo can quickly and easily launch products using the distribution computing in other fields, Kass says, including real, not simulated Web site load testing, wireless and streaming data measurement, and others.

The company’s competitors include firms such as Ikami that measure Internet performance at places other than the end-user’s experience. “We’re the only ones doing that,” Kass said.

One thing that helps sales, Kass said: “Some companies want to run their business with facts.”