BitTorrent Goes Legit with Content Delivery Service

Controversial peer-to-peer file sharing company BitTorrent, Inc., is making new moves toward establishing itself as a legitimate content delivery play, today unveiling a business service designed to quickly and cheaply stream media to users’ desktops.

The company’s service, called BitTorrent Delivery Network Accelerator (DNA), takes advantage of BitTorrent’s eponymous, open-source architecture for distributed, peer-to-peer content sharing. Every person running a BitTorrent client is simultaneously downloading and serving content as well, with each client thereby shouldering a portion of the burden for serving content.

In addition, as more people download a file, there are also more uploaders, theoretically improving collective transfer speeds.

To date, the underlying technology has been popular with scofflaws downloading music, pirated software and DVD rips. During the past year, however, BitTorrent has begun refashioning its image and seeking to work closely with content owners, launching an online movie and television rental service. At present, that service has partnerships in place with content producers like MGM Studios, MTV Networks and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

With its new DNA service, BitTorrent is hoping to further those efforts through its first steps into the enterprise services market.

The company is marketing its technology as an alternative to content delivery networks like those offered by vendors such as Akamai, which typically rely on a series of massive datacenters located on high-traffic backbones.

Analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group commended BitTorrent for its efforts to establish a more legitimate business and distance itself from the trade in illegal downloads.

“Where the download services like Napster got in trouble was they did nothing — or appeared to do next to nothing — to keep the illegal stuff off their network,” he said. “If it appears to the industry that BitTorrent is doing their level best to keep the illegal stuff off, they are fine.”

Already, BitTorrent has its first customer for its newest effort. Brightcove, a video-streaming service that counts Time, CBS News, The Discovery Channel and Reuters among its customers, plans to integrate BitTorrent DNA into its offerings. The hope is to improve delivery speeds for its instant-on, broadcast-quality online video.

For plays like Brightcove, BitTorrent DNA is positioned as a way to avoid some of the bottlenecks and expenses associated with more traditional approaches to content hosting, offloading much of the effort of serving content onto the downloading clients themselves.

Additionally, the service can complement existing content delivery networks (CDNs), origin servers or datacenters, while allowing content publishers to shift as much as 80 percent of content delivery to its secure, managed peer network.

Executives at the company said they believe the marriage of peer-to-peer and CDN networks like Akamai will be much more efficient than traditional CDNs alone.

“This leverages BitTorrent technology and allows any content owner or social networking site to basically enjoy the efficiencies of BitTorrent delivery,” said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of the company.

Enderle agrees that the idea could prove helpful in delivering content.

“It potentially gives much faster download times,” he said. “It eliminates the bottleneck of hitting a server at the same time and overloading it. With BitTorrent, you use established clients instead of building out a server infrastructure. So for a fraction of the cost of setting up a cluster, you can use BitTorrent.”

Additionally, using BitTorrent means content companies can keep their existing infrastructure and CDN agreements and just use DNA to supplement delivery of content to end users. For DNA to work, however, BitTorrent does require users to leave their computer on and the BitTorrent client running to share downloading files.

The DNA-enabled BitTorrent client will have some new compression algorithms to try and keep congestion down on the network and on a user’s PC, the company said. Normally, traffic from a BitTorrent client can create major bottlenecks for a PC’s Internet performance, Navin said, so DNA will be designed to avoid interfering with other applications and will have only an 8MB footprint in memory.

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