Crowd Control for P2P?

 
 
By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2001-09-17
 
 
 

Crowd Control for P2P?


As university networks gear up to combat a new semester of peer-to-peer applications, some network watchers now see todays P2P as only a preview of the bandwidth problems that will accompany more advanced technologies that will begin to filter into the mainstream Internet.

Market watcher Webnoize reports that last month alone, more than 3 billion files were exchanged across the four largest P2P systems. The largest P2P force is now FastTrack, which accounted for 970 million exchanges.

FastTracks numbers still dont compare with those of Napster, which was responsible for 2.79 billion file exchanges in the month of February alone. But Matt Bailey, a senior analyst at Webnoize, expects P2P to reach new highs in file exchanges as early as next month.

Internet service providers say theyre up for the challenge of supplying enough bandwidth to meet this demand, but the apparent inability of university networks to keep pace may curb their optimism.

Colleges and universities stumbled while carrying the burden of Napster users last spring, and independent analyst Kelly Truelove says the new systems pose an even bigger threat. The new P2P offerings allow users to download bulky video files that can take up more than five times the bandwidth needed for a music file.

Campus Crackdown 101


Campus Crackdown 101

Analysts believe commercial ISPs will adjust, but some say providers will be keeping a close eye on university networks this fall to see just how bad the bandwidth demand gets. To combat the growing tide of P2P traffic, university network administrators are turning to old friends — bandwidth management tools.

Arizona State University, which boasts over 26,000 Ethernet connections, tried port blocking to fight off Napster traffic but quickly realized the approach was too burdensome. ASU will now use Packeteers PacketShaper tool in its traffic battle, says Darel Eschbach, assistant provost for information technology and telecommunications services at ASU. PacketShaper will allow the school to gain information about network traffic and foster beneficial peering systems without blocking them out.

Bucknell University, which banned Napster in Spring 2000 when service requests totally filled its connection, will use traffic prioritization features built into the Cisco 7200 Series VXR router to keep its connections from being overwhelmed, says Gene Spencer, associate director for computing and information services.

While effective against Napster, which had a central repository for handling peer-to-peer file exchanges, these tools may not help counter the new P2P networks, which feature decentralized systems far more advanced than their ancestor. Network administrators could block out specific IP addresses of known P2P abusers, but the bulk of P2P exchanges could continue unabated.

Daryl Smith, CTO at P2P operator MusicCity, says the bandwidth talks are blown out of proportion. He claims that MusicCitys distributed bandwidth model actually takes bandwidth from a greater number of users instead of strictly from the sender and receiver, making file swapping less demanding on the provider.

Smith admits that the increased use of P2P can lead to bandwidth problems, but he says the real problem for ISPs is their flawed technology models. Because ISPs typically dont plan to support all users being online at once, they have a difficult time managing the bandwidth needed by the growing numbers of P2P users, Smith says. "P2P is not the problem — its the infrastructure of the Internet that needs to be rethought," he asserts.

Smith further claims that no matter what happens to todays P2P applications and services, commercial ISPs should start preparing for the coming of new "bandwidth-chewing" technologies. "Whats going on is that peer-to-peer is the first way to use the Internet to deliver content," Smith says. "If theyre starting to cry now, wait until the next wave of online distributed services comes about."

Pointing to the advancement of video on demand and software-as-a-service, Smith suggests such innovations will impose bigger bandwidth demands. He says ISPs can only do so much to limit bandwidth to these services and claims that theyll have to start limiting users or charging more for their services once the burden becomes too much to bear.

Truelove says that an ISPs first option would be to adjust its delivery models to allow for more bandwidth. An independent study conducted by Truelove revealed that the average file size available on Morpheus has grown 10% since early July, reinforcing Smiths argument that the biggest is yet to come.

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