Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why Xbox Video Service Needs Peer Impact

Last week Microsoft launched their digital marketplace for the Xbox and fell victim to the Slashdot effect. On the day of the launch the demand was more then they could handle and as a result users experienced extremely slow downloads or did not receive what they purchased at all.

Since then there have been many articles stating how Microsoft could solve these problems by using P2P technology and I couldn’t agree more. I have seen our technology solve this problem many times when we distribute the America’s Army game. About a year ago the Army released a major upgrade to their game and saw an amazing demand for the game. Users going to the America’s Army site to download the game found that almost every mirror sites was either down or was delivering the file at extremely slow speeds, but not us. With the combination of our P2P network and our seed servers we were able to deliver the file at fast speeds while keeping bandwidth costs low. And by the nature of P2P as demand increased for the game we were able to deliver the file at faster and faster speeds instead of slower and slower speeds like traditional distribution sites were delivering.

There is one article in particular I would like to comment on because it describes exactly what Peer Impact is today, and could be used by any company looking to distribute large files or streams on the Internet. The article was written by Mark Wilson and can be found on the Gizmodo website. It talks about a SIMPLE approach to solving Microsoft problems using BitTorrent, but as many of you know Peer Impact’s technology if very similar to BitTorrent in that a single file is broken into small fragments that are distributed among computers. People then share pieces of the content with one another. We believe that Peer Impact P2P technology is very different in some respects and more efficient then BitTorrent, and would solve this problem much better. Below is a snippet from the article with my comments.

1. Users can have the option for faster downloads through Live's P2P sharing network.
> Peer Impact provides fast downloads for everyone through the use of our P2P network, but was built to allow people to have the option of not using the P2P network. Without the P2P network they could see slower download speeds.

2. By Microsoft heavily controlling super-seeding (distributing different parts of files evenly), a P2P-shared file could hit an efficient early transfer/share
rate.
> In addition to our P2P network we have super-seeders that help deliver content. This ensures that a file is delivered at a specified QoS if the P2P network can't supply enough bandwidth.

3. For a portion of your upstream bandwidth (that could be specified by user), gamers are able to download faster (and as a top uploader, you get access to top downloading speeds).
> When a user downloads a file we look are their participation rating(uptime, upstream bandwidth used, …) to determine how many sources to give them. A high rating will mean more sources during a download and more source means faster speeds.

4. Microsoft rewards power users with points per preset upload amount (1gb=50 Live points)
> Peer Impact has a rewards system called Peer Cash. For every upload you provide you earn Peer Cash which can be used to buy music, movies, TV shows, and games from our service. Users can also earn Peer Cash by recommending content to their friends or post links to content on their website or blog.

5. Brian Lam stops getting error messages.
> Error messages suck

6. Unicorns return to Earth.
> LOL

Once again a agree with Mark that its too bad that companies that need P2P the most are not using the technology.



Here is a link to another article that mentions both Peer Impact and the Gizmodo article.

Friday, March 03, 2006

P2P Is the Future of Media Distribution

I just read a great article about how peer-2-peer technologies are the future of the Internet and couldn't agree more. The article was written by Robert Cringely who is a writer and Internet Guru for PBS. It was great to read an article by someone who has been around technology for some time now and who talks to the "best and brightest in Silicon Valley" about how peer-2-peer technology is the future for digital distribution on the Internet. I believe this as well and Peer Impact’s peer-2-peer technology will be the one to fulfill this vision.

http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20060302.html

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Steve Jobs and his DRM

So far Steve Jobs has not licensed his “FairPlay” DRM to anyone except Motorola so they could build the “ITunes Phone”. Is this decision hurting Apple or helping them? I believe the decision is hurting his company.

I’ve read Apple’s AAC wrapped in their “FairPlay” DRM is the most popular downloaded music format on the Internet with all downloads coming from their ITunes Music Store. From what I understand Jobs only uses ITunes as means to sell IPods. Imagine if he were to license his DRM to other content providers like Napster, Yahoo!, and Peer Impact. I believe all these services would embrace the format due the popularity of IPod and sell all their music in this format. In return, this would increase Apple’s music format dominance and sell more IPods. I think Apple would also sell more IPods if it supported more formats and DRM containers such as media technologies that Microsoft has developed. (Maybe Microsoft won’t license their technology at a “fair” price so that’s why the IPod doesn’t support it.:) ) I also have to believe that Microsoft is thanking Apple for not licensing their DRM to other content providers because that leaves Microsoft's formats in the game still.

I’m sure Steve Jobs has some good reasons for not licensing his DRM and in the short term it would be hard to argue them, but I think he is settling. He could be more of a dominate force in the music format market then he currently is and with video becoming more and more popular he has the opportunity to dominate that format as well. But, I think video might be the format that final convinces Jobs to license his DRM. I don’t believe that everyone is going to want to watch movies and TV shows on a 2 inch screen going forward. There are plenty of devices out there today that people will prefer to watch there videos on and they don’t support Apple’s DRM. The IPod is great for music and Apple won everyone over with its look and ease of use, but they are forcing “A square peg into a round hole” when it comes to watching video on an IPod.

Next week I will talk about alternatives to the video IPod and devices that you can buy for your home that are not even in the same category as the video IPod for watching video, listening to music, and viewing photos that are stored on your home computer.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

DVD Window

This past Friday my wife and I wanted to watch Star Wars III – Revenge of the Sith. I looked at her and see looked at me and together we said, “Who’s going to drive to Hollywood Video to rent the movie” and in the same breath we both said, “Not it”. Then I thought, “Why can’t I download the latest movie releases so I don’t have to leave my house”. It was 9 o’clock at night and we just put the kids to bed. We were both tired from the week, but we were really in the mood to watch the movie. I’m sure the scenario above just doesn’t pertain to my house. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would rater order a movie from their house instead of driving to the video store.

I believe the Movie Studios see the value in shrinking the video window and are trying to come up with a solution, but it must be hard to change something that has been in place for so long. There are many reasons for shrinking the video window, but here’s a list that I have come up with.

Fighting Piracy
By shrinking the window when movies are released for rental, sale, and on-demand it will decrease the need for people to make pirated DVD’s available on the Internet. If a movie was available for download at the same time you could rent or buy the movie in stores, I think people would be less interested in downloading pirated movies for a couple reasons.
- The legal version of the downloadable movie would be much higher quality then the pirated version.
- The price for the downloadable movie would cost much less then the physical DVD.

Lower Prices
The distribution costs for making a movie available for download is much less then the physical version. Digital versions of the movie don’t take up shelf space and don’t accrue the costs necessary to create the physical DVD.

Unlimited Inventory
Ever go to your local video store to get one of latest releases to find out they are all gone? Well… this wouldn’t happen in the digital world. Especially with the delivery technologies that Peer Impact possesses. Peer Impact can support an unlimited number of downloads at one time. If Star Wars III was released on the Internet and there were thousands of people that wanted to watch it that day they could without leaving their house. Using Peer Impact’s content delivery technology every person would be involved in the distribution of the movie which allows it to scale infinitely while also getting it to every person as fast as their Internet pipe could handle.

Convenience
Personally, if I could order all my movies from my house I would never go to a video store again, especially if they were cheaper.

Giving Users What They Want
With the coming of Home Networking solutions in the near future more and more users are going to want this convenience and they will have 2 options. 1. Download a pirated version of the movie they want to watch. 2. Download them from a trusted source in high quality and at a reasonable price.


Much like the person who delivered ice to your house became less and less useful due the invention of the refrigerator the same will happen to video stores. We all know the day is coming were you don’t need to go to movie store to rent or purchase a movie, but I hope it happens before the piracy problems get too big.

Here is another good article talking about the same thing:
http://www.slate.com/id/2128631/

Monday, November 28, 2005

Interview with Phil Leigh

Last week Kirk Feathers our CTO and President got a chance to talk with Phil Leigh about himself, Wurld Media, and Peer Impact. Before this interview I had never heard of Phil Leigh, but from what I can tell he is getting major companies and their executives to sit down and talk with him. He’s like the David Letterman or Jay Leno for Internet talk shows.

The Interview is a half hour long and starts out by talking about Kirk’s background. It then leads into a little history of the Wurld, and end with a conversation about Peer Impact and how it compares to BitTorrent. What I think is important to get out of this interview with Phil Leigh(and I will go into more detail about them later) are two things – 1) peer-2-peer is not a “four” letter word any more and major companies are seriously considering using them as a means to deliver digital content to viewers. 2) Peer Impact and its technology are both a pioneer and leader in peer-2-peer content distribution space.

In the last month or two we have seen some major companies announce they are going to use peer-2-peer technology to distribute their content to viewers. Both BBC and AOL/Time Warner have announced new services that will use peer-2-peer technologies to distribute video content to their viewers. BBC will give their viewers the chance to catch up on TV and radio programs they may have missed for up to seven days after they have been broadcast and AOL/Time Warner will give their views the ability to download classic TV shows through a new service called In2TV. BitTorrent came to an agreement with the MPAA in which BitTorrent.com will filter out pirated content links to torrent files from its search engine. And this is just the beginning of companies that are willing to put all the negativity that has plague peer-2-peer for the last 5 years a side and give technology companies like Wurld Media(Peer Impact) a chance to prove that there are legitimate uses for peer-2-peer software.

The first generation of the peer-2-peer content distribution technology that is used in Peer Impact was conceived in late 2000 by Jamie Addessi. Jamie built an application that would organize computers that were downloading the same file and utilize their unused bandwidth to distribute the file which yielded extremely fast speeds with only one peer having the entire file. This is the same technology that has made BitTorrent the most popular method for distributing large file to many people simultaneously. People have estimated that BitTorrent can account for somewhere around 30% of the Internet’s traffic. After building the application Jamie filed for a patent that covers how the technology organizes computers together and how it routes data between peers. In 2001 the technology was used to transfer legal bootlegs of live shows for the FurthurNet community. The FurthurNet application used a slightly modified version of Gnutella for searching the network and the above transport technology to transfer shows between peers out of band. Jamie and I left FurthurNet and started a new company called LX Systems with the guidance of its parent company Wurld Media. It was under this company where the second generation of this technology was developed. LX Systems was formed to be a R&D company to take the first generation technology to the next level and for over the next year and half the technology was re-architected and re-written to be smarter and faster then its predecessor. In April of 2002 the second generation was ready for “prime time” and it was used by the United States Army to distribute their PC video game call America's Army. The America's Army game was one of most popular video games at the time and still is today which really pushed our technology to its limits. With the release of their 2.0 version of the game we saw thousands of people download the game from us which saved the Army over 75% of the bandwidth and resources needed to deliver the game as opposed to using traditional distribution technologies such as HTTP or FTP. The third generation of this technology was then developed over the last year and half and is used in Peer Impact. This generation included some more “file sharing” concepts and “node awareness” algorithms to make transfers over the Internet more efficient and faster.

In summary peer-2-peer content distribution technologies are finally being taken seriously and Peer Impact is a pioneer and a leader in that space. There are other companies such as Kontiki, BitTorrent, and Red Swoosh that have developed similar technologies as us, but with our technology being more advanced, combine with relationships that we have already formed, and new relationships forming everyday we believe to have the advantage over our competition.

MP3 download location of the interview:
http://www.insidedigitalmedia.com/index.php

Monday, November 21, 2005

NBC Universal Deal

Last week we announced a deal with NBC Universal that allows us to sell their movies and TV events on our network. This press release got a lot of attention as you can see if you do a Google news search on “Peer Impact” News search

This deal is a big step for a major movie studio because it shows they are willing to offer their content on a peer-2-peer network. NBC Universal movies are currently available for download at Movielink and CinemaNow, but are not available on any peer-2-peer network until our announcement last week. Peer Impact will allow users to download movies and TV events for a 24 hour viewing period with up to 30 days to start the viewing. The 24 hour viewing period is the standard On-Demand deal that cable and satellite TV operators are providing to their users as well.

Downloading movies and TV events are extremely popular with users of other peer-2-peer networks like BitTorrent and I think the movies studios are taking notice. This deal is just the start and in the near future I think users will get more flexibility with this content. I can see the studios allowing users to purchase a movie and burn it to a DVD, and extend the view periods when renting, but just like anything else you have to start somewhere.

Peer Impact was built by the community and will continue to be built by the community so I would like people’s feedback on this deal. I would love to hear what you would expect from our service when we release movies and TV events and what you would expect in the future. Also, if people have questions about this deal I can try to answer them. Let the discussion begin!

Monday, November 14, 2005

More Posts In The Future

I've been really slacking since I've started this blog and starting today Moday Nov 14, 2005 I am going to start posting an article every Monday. Depending on how the week goes I might post more. The article for this week is about UPnP Port Forwarding.

UPnP Port Forwarding

I've been recently researching UPnP Port Forwarding support for Peer Impact and here are some of my findings.

Between 60-75% of the users on the Peer Impact network are behind some kind of firewall whether it is a software application like Zone Alarm running on a user’s PC or a hardware device like a D-Link home router that is connected to a user’s PC. The job of those applications are to block any incoming network requests so they don’t reach a user’s PC protecting it from attackers and viruses. Having 60-75% of your network behind firewalls is not the optimal situation for a p2p network because this doesn’t allow users who are behind a firewall to share with other users who are behind a firewall which means they can only share with users not behind a firewall.(This does not mean that users behind cannot share, it just means that users who are behind a firewall cannot share with other users behind a firewall which extremely limits their ability to participate/share in the network and earn Peer Cash.) That was a mouth full :)

There are a couple solutions to enable a user’s PC to accept incoming connections so they can share with everyone while still keeping their PC protected from attackers or viruses, but the solution that works the best is called “Port Forwarding”. Every software or hardware firewall has the capability to “Port Forward” and once properly configured, incoming requests that are received by the firewall that match the target IP and port will be forwarded on to the appropriate PC. This technique will work and allows your Peer Impact application to accept incoming connection from other Peer Impact applications or peers, but it has a few downfalls.
- In order to configure your firewall to “Port Forward” it takes a good amount of technical skill to do it correctly. I don’t know how many people I have helped configure “Port Forwarding” on their firewall and it took us weeks to finally get it to work.
- Most of the people who are using a firewall are also using the device’s DHCP server to obtain an IP. Once you are assigned an IP there is no guarantee that the DHCP server will let you have that IP forever. There is a good chance it will change which means you will have to reconfigure your firewall to work with the new IP. Especially if you are running Peer Impact on a laptop that is moving from location to location.

Luckily, there is a better solution to this problem that uses the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) protocol to talk to your firewall and ask it to do the port forwarding for you with no technical skills required. UPnP is a relatively new set of protocols that allow devices to interact with each other more easily. One protocol called the Internet Gateway Device (IGD) Standardized Device Control Protocol V 1.0 allows other devices to get information and configure Internet Gateway devices like a D-Link or Linksys router. Fortunately, a lot of the main Internet Gateway or home router manufactures are supporting this protocol which makes it practical for applications like Peer Impact to use the protocol for port forward. Using this protocol Peer Impact can configure any Internet Gateway device that supports UPnP to enable port forwarding without any interaction from the user.

Using the UPnP protocol would make everything a lot easier because people would not need to know the following.
- Their internal IP of their computer
- What port or ports to forward
- What Internet protocols to use when forwarding.(TCP or UDP or both)
- The IP address of their Internet Gateway so they can configure it manually
- The user name and password to login to their Internet Gateway.
- How to find and use the configuration screens on the device to port forward

Now using the UPnP protocol to port forward does comes with it’s downfalls.
- Not all Internet Gateway devices support UPnP
- Even the ones that have support for UPnP don’t work properly
- On some devices and platforms UPnP support isn’t turned on by default
- Microsoft’s support and SDK implementation of the Internet Gateway Device (IGD) Standardized Device Control Protocol V 1.0 is buggy and very unpredictable. Some days it works and some days it doesn’t.

In the end I think trying to use UPnP to “Port Forward” is worth the effort because if it doesn’t work people can still fallback to manually configuring their device to “Port Forward”. Plus, one would hope that support for UPnP on the Windows platform and Internet Gateway devices can only improve over time. So look for this feature in an upcoming release of Peer Impact.

NOTE: I have also looked at some open source code that should work when Peer Impact decides to support other platforms like Linux and Mac OSX. I haven’t done enough research to comment on how reliable these implementations are.

For more information on port forwarding visit PortForward.com
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