Diving In

Chaincast's cheaper streaming

Joining the frenzy for all things peer-to-peer, ChainCast Networks officially unveiled its streaming technology last week at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas.

ChainCasts technology, in theory, enables media companies to stream live broadcasts more cheaply than with current Webcasting methods, by pushing bandwidth consumption out to the very edge of the network.

Using the ChainCast player, a plug-in that works with Windows Media Player, the company creates dynamic distribution links, or "chains," between broadband users who have installed the player. Those users computers act as splitters, with each computer sending copies of the streamed Webcast to several more users.

The key seems to be the ChainCast Network Topology Engine, a server whose task it is to build and manage the virtual network, connecting and disconnecting users and reconfiguring the treelike structure in real-time.

The technology potentially reduces costs for Internet service providers and media companies for two reasons: First, the number of edge servers, where consumers access the stream, no longer has to grow with the number of users since users become servers themselves. Second, the technology enables an ISP to take in fewer separate streams at the network access point, where it links to the backbone and pays for the bandwidth. Instead, the streams splay out only at the network edge, within local and metropolitan area networks where bandwidth isnt metered.

"Napster allowed outbound traffic from the local area network to the Internet, thus increasing the Internet access costs," says Joseph Rozenfeld, executive vice president and chief technology officer at ChainCast. "This is why Napster was banned from some of the university campuses."

Users, whose computers are being used for the ChainCast, must release some portion of their upstream bandwidth, typically three or four streams of about 20 kilobits per second each. But ChainCast limits the upstream bandwidth it consumes per user and bumps users out of the broadcast tree if they request the bandwidth for some other application.

Analysts briefed earlier by the company called the technology "interesting" but were skeptical as to whether it will fly in the market.

"The promise of P2P-based multicasting is huge but there are great hurdles to overcome before that promise can be met," said Benjamin Elstein, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group. "The technology looks good and sounds good on paper and might even work on a small network. But whether it can scale, be secure, be reliable and whether any existing content companies would allow it to enter the market are big questions."

Meta Group analyst Peter Firstbrook says ChainCast seems like an ideal use of P2P technology. "But the proof will be in the pudding. What if I dont want to participate for security reasons" What if [America Online] doesnt like it and shuts it off?"

ChainCast plans to sell its open platform as a managed service for media broadcasters, Webcasters and content-delivery networks.