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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