TCS Daily

A Peerless Technology

By Matthew Briney - November 21, 2002 12:00 AM

When we look back years from now at technologies that have changed and influenced our daily lives we will have to consider the impact of Shawn Fanning and Napster. The overnight sensation that swept college dorm rooms made millions of music enthusiasts happy and the recording industry livid (and the artists often somewhere in between) has revolutionized the way we get and listen to music making 'MP3' a household word.

Caught off guard, the recording industry has been frantically lobbying Congress to preserve intellectual property rights and defend an aging industry that has failed to keep ahead of the technological curve. Efforts have been made to ban and prevent future development of these technologies, in the form of legislation such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a broad and non-specific measure that will take decades to sort out and clarify in the courts.

Thousands of articles have been written that discuss the implications of intellectual property. But buried within the Napster debate is a larger issue. Peer-to-Peer networking.

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks offer a new solution to content delivery. A P2P network consists of an unlimited number of individual computers. Each carries its own set of content. A list of the content is submitted to a server. When content is requested a search of all of the uploaded content lists is conducted on the server and the results of the search are sent back to your computer. Your computer then goes out and connects with the other computers on the system that have the content you want.

It's a revolutionary idea that offers numerous possibilities over the traditional Client-Server networking models where your individual machine will request all data from a central server.

The problem with a Client-Server model is that when the system becomes overloaded or suffers hardware problems or power-outages the content is no longer accessible. A good illustration of this problem is when the popular geek news site Slashdot posts a new link to an article it will generate what has become the "Slashdot effect" where the server becomes overloaded by a sudden flux of visitors and either crashes or comes to a grinding halt. Even Tech Central Station can attest to that.

P2P networks offer redundancy by making sure that content is stored in multiple locations. They offer reliability that insures that the data can always be obtained by offering multiple locations for download. And they offer load balancing, where content that is most popular will have millions of download locations and will be easily accessible.

But the advances don't stop there. Today's king of the hill file swapping service, Kazaa, has made additional improvements where Napster left off. Kazaa, owned and operated by Sharman Networks, manages bandwidth better by first attempting to download files from users on your ISP's network, thus making transfers quicker by not having to bounce through other networks' routers. Kazaa has also pioneered a system that allows you to download content from multiple computers at the same time, and then recombine the file on your local machine. This allows you to maximize your bandwidth and receive the content faster.

But P2P networks are not just for downloading your favorite MP3s. There are many uses for these networks. They can offer a new system of sending out national emergency alerts in the event of a disaster. They can also deliver news and information more quickly and reliably. We all saw what happened on 9/11 when news sites like were inaccessible. The Department of Defense is even examining the use of P2P networks as a system of sending orders to soldiers in the field.

P2P can offer us a new way to deliver movies, television and music especially with the growing number of Personal Video Recorders (PVR) like Tivo. Linked with wireless networks it also can provide a new type of radio system that requires little infrastructure where users stream audio from other cars and nearby radio devices.

With a few more advances, P2P can become an even bigger transportation medium than the World Wide Web and at the very least will have a huge impact on the way we receive data and content in the future.

Improving delivery is the key to growth. The Internet has taught us that by improving our ways of communications we can work more efficiently and become more productive which in the end will result in higher profitability.

As the fight to defend intellectual property rights continues we must continue to protect the property of artists around the world. However banning the technology is not the solution. Instead we must encourage the high-tech industry to develop symbiotic solutions that utilize these existing networks and deliver the content in the way the end-user wants while at the same time offering reward and compensation for those who create.



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