Content Goes With Flow

Start-up Digital Fountain today will introduce its first products: servers enabling efficient distribution of rich content, such as multimedia, over the Internet.

Start-up Digital Fountain today will introduce its first products: servers enabling efficient distribution of rich content, such as multimedia, over the Internet.

In addition to selling its servers directly, the company said it has struck deals with Cisco Systems, the Nomura Research Institute of Japan and Sony, each of which will offer products incorporating Digital Fountains content distribution technology. Sources said Digital Fountain is also in talks with Microsoft.

"What we are doing is combining the cost economics of broadcast technology with on-demand personalization," said Cliff Meltzer, Digital Fountains CEO.

Analysts predicted that Digital Fountain could grow into a competitor of RealNetworks, which declined to comment.

Digital Fountain, founded by academic researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, uses mathematical techniques to encode data in such a way that when its broken into packets, the information is evenly distributed among all of them. As long as a client computer receives a sufficient number of packets, it can reconstitute the content. It does not matter which packets they are.

The technology reduces the load on content servers, since they dont have to separately keep track of which packets were sent where. Rather, users need only tune in to the "fountain" of packets long enough to extract what they need.

The technology also works well with multicasting, a protocol for sending data to a group of recipients, using far less bandwidth than sending individual streams of data. Multicasting is inherently unreliable, because there is no way to ensure that all the packets that are sent arrive at their destination. With Digital Fountains technology, however, it doesnt matter if packets get lost as long as each recipient tunes in long enough to get enough of them.

The company said its Internet servers can handle 4,000 DVD-quality streams or 5,000 broadband downloads without multicasting; with multicasting, millions of users can be handled by a single server.

Digital Fountain said Cisco is incorporating the technology into its Cisco Content Delivery Network product for delivering media over enterprise networks and the Net. According to Digital Fountain executives, Nomura will incorporate the technology into a satellite distribution system for updating content kiosks in Japan from which consumers can download audio and video. An analyst said Sony plans to use Digital Fountains technology in its internal network and in two new products, one of which will distribute digital content via satellite. Representatives at Cisco and Sony did not respond to requests for comment.

Analysts said the technology is useful only when a lot of people are accessing the same content over a short time, but Michael Hoch, at Aberdeen Group, doesnt see this as a disadvantage. "If you have 1,000 people accessing 10,000 types of information, then it would not work," he said, referring to Digital Fountains technology. "But if you have 1,000 people accessing 100 types of information, then it will work."

Hoch said the technology is also useful for "asynchronous access," meaning applications where people tune in at different times. "For a CEO presentation, you dont have to be there at 9:00. You can be there at 9:07 and still see the same thing," he said.