MP3s, P2P Causing Trouble at Universities

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2001-12-10

Who would have thought that technology that helps rip off the record companies and keeps some artists starving would be a boon to the tech world?

It appears that MP3 and the peer-to-peer technologies that replaced Napster have created a surge in the need for network bandwidth management packages at universities. Those universities are struggling to expand their bandwidth while controlling usage without totally irking the student body.

The craze of P2P is not unlike our current infatuation with sugar, an apt description of the pop music being heard so often. In the 1950s, parents tapping into new wealth (read: debt) wanted to spoil themselves and their kids, so the families drank soda pop and ate candy in enormous amounts. That triggered the rise of a massive refined sugar industry that led to an increase in sugar usage in all forms of food production, including beverages and candy, which then led to a boom in the medical and dental fields.

In other words, something that tasted good, but had no substance, changed an entire tacitly related industry.

Theres no stopping the kids from sharing Britney Spears music—or worse—videos of Spears, et al. P2P, however, is bugging the heck out of universities, as college IT administrators try to put up useful P2P services for class registration, grade posting and research. Universities, of course, dont really want to stop the students, or else theyll get a bad reputation. And if they lose top students, they cant jack up tuition by 20 percent a year. Instead, theyve let the students run MP3 and other bandwidth-intensive technology over the collegiate network.

Well, sort of. Most are trying to make use of the QOS features of most routers. Theyre often hitting stumbling blocks, though, since QOS features normally dont work at the application level.

Thats why Packeteer, a company specializing in packet shaping bandwidth management, is such a hit with universities right now. The Packeteer packet shaping and TCP rate control features help administrators throttle bandwidth on a per-application basis without causing those packets to queue up (a typical cause of latency).

I suspect that Packeteer-like capabilities will be incorporated in most routers in the near future. The result will be that MP3s change the architecture of the network. Maybe the Recording Industry Association of America will start asking for a cut.

How have MP3s changed your network? Write to me at

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