Posts tagged ‘BitTorrent’
Dan Rayburn has a note out this morning about the lack of traction that P2P vendors such as Pando Networks and BitTorrent are experiencing with Content Delivery Networks. Dan’s the most knowledgeable guy I’ve read about CDNs, and I agree with him here. P2P certainly has its commercial uses, but as Dan points out:
From what I can tell in the market, P2P is not as big of a story as it was at the end of last year. The topic has cooled off a bit except when its being discussed as it pertains to carriers blocking or filtering of P2P based traffic on their networks. Aside from that, customers are not asking me about P2P and 55.2% of those we surveyed about their content delivery needs said they did not plan to even look at P2P as a delivery solution for 2008.
Cost is usually touted as the primary reason to use P2P for content delivery, and as I’ve argued before, this won’t scale–ISPs will eventually demand their pound of flesh, one way or another. Plus, as Dan says over and over, cost isn’t even the most important factor for most content providers. My view is that P2P will eventually take its place as a valuable niche method for video delivery, and several of the larger players will gain traction (and/or be acquired). But it’s likely to remain a total delivery solution only for file traders and small content owners.
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning (article, paid subscription required) on talks between Comcast (CMCSA) and BitTorrent, Inc. to make nice over Comcast’s admitted blocking–excuse me, “delaying”–of bittorrent generated traffic.
At first glance it seems a rather ham-handed attempt to mollify Comcast critics. The WSJ and others are reporting it as a fairly straight up development, if something of a backpedal by Comcast. But these miss the point, I think, sidetracked by conspiratorial discussions of “net neutrality” and how the big bad telecablecos are angling to limit our choices, take over the world, and generally do evil.
Do I believe the big ISPs want to control content (or access to it) as well as the pipes? Absolutely. There’s gold in them thar hills! None of them want to be limited to connectivity or bit delivery services. But will they succeed? Is the above fictional ad to be our broadband future? I doubt it. Anyway, it’s beside the point.
There’s another motive for ISPs to manage bandwidth on their networks–it’s a finite resource. No, Virginia, there is no unlimited bandwidth. You can talk all you want about Moore’s Law, etc. Bandwidth ought to be cheap. In a perfect world–or Asia–it is cheap. But not here, not without real competition.
The telecablecos have promised this always-on, flat-rate, high-speed internet access. It was a fiction created by the need for market share, and by consumer demand for a broadband salad bar. All-you-can-eat, with a fixed price. Sounds wonderful. But it could never have lasted since the infrastructure is largely shared and was built on the expectation that demand would be low (or at least intermittent).
Now the growth of video is stealing the condiments, and file sharers are sneezing in the salad.
There’s no free lunch. So you do one of two things. Limit how many trips each patron can make for salad. Or charge them for each trip. Comcast has tried the former. My bet is on the latter.
You believe it’s a fantasy? That no one will go for tiered or bit-based pricing? Think again–Time Warner (TWX) is already trialing it. And the more successful we are at regulating the ISPs to ensure net neutrality (in the absence of competition), the more likely it is we’ll see pricing by the byte.
Silicon Alley Insider has a short interview with BitTorrent CEO Doug Walker about plans to entice the media Big Boys to use BT’s peer-to-peer delivery service. Walker claims he can undercut the likes of Akamai and Limelight Networks.
P2P does a great job of file transfer. Streaming? Not so much.
Streaming via P2P doesn’t use any less bandwidth that streaming directly. It just uses somebody else’s bandwidth. So yes, it can be “cheaper”, but this is virtual savings, not real savings. Once P2P streaming delivery gets big enough–if it ever does–the ISPs will step in and demand their share. This is what the whole net neutrality thing is about. In fact it’s already happening, with Comcast selectively blocking some P2P clients. Even if there’s no direct royalty to the telcablecos, sooner or later their bandwidth gets chewed up, and then they raise prices to consumers.
This thing won’t scale. It runs up against the fundamental problems of the Internet in the U.S.: lack of edge capacity and asymmetric bandwidth.
Most internet connections are designed to be timeshared. Your advertised 2 Mb/s (or 10 Mb/s) link only gets that kind of speed if no one else in your neighborhood is using theirs. Cable systems often have a 500:1 share ratio. Even DSL is shared in a way, limited by capacity at the DSLAM in the central office (and it’s typically slower to start with). Which all works fine for web pages where it’s a quick download between idle times. But video streaming of any kind runs into real problems with enough simultaneous users, because there’s a minimum sustained rate that must be achieved to avoid jitter and/or buffering.
What makes the problem worse for P2P is that almost all internet connections are asymmetric; the upstream bandwidth is an order of magnitude slower than downstream. This is because the phone and cable companies–with their heads firmly in the sand–never envisioned the internet as anything other than a way to shove increasingly expensive media down consumer throats. That is, after all, the model they were founded on. But P2P and User Generated Content are turning that notion on its head.
So we have too little bandwidth, and it’s increasingly pointed in the wrong direction anyway.
Streaming via P2P works fine on a small scale (Joost’s beta wasn’t half bad; but notice how the more users it gets the less you hear about it?) And P2P is great for file transfer since there are no latency/buffer issues. Just don’t expect it to be the answer to video delivery for consumers. Conversations with executives at the likes of Akamai (who has their own P2P technology) have confirmed peer streaming will likely be limited to private networks where there’s greater control over the protocols and the bandwidth.
Don’t get me started on streaming vs. download, and why the latter is better because storage is cheaper than bandwidth. That’s a subject for another post.