P2P: the Bandwidth Killer
- By John K. Waters
PALO ALTO, CA—Peer-to-peer computing evangelists say we're in for an IT revolution
as earthshaking as the advent of the Internet itself. And it's clear that P2P
has earned Next-Big-Thing status, with a range of companies swarming into the
market with new offerings. One can't help but wonder, what's the downside to
a future in which clients at the edges of the Internet connect to each other
Here's one: increased bandwidth consumption.
Users running P2P applications—whether they are file-sharing Napster-like
apps, or MIPS-mining distributed computing programs a la SETI@home—could end
up devouring great hunks of bandwidth, forcing Internet service providers (ISPs)
to rethink their usage and pricing models.
ISPs are able to charge flat rates because most subscribers log onto the network
to collect their e-mail and do a little Web surfing, and then they log off.
P2P applications can turn these intermittent users into always-on bandwidth
hogs. Furthermore, many ISPs "overbook" their networks by as much as 40 to 1;
most simply don't have the capacity to cope with widespread P2P interactions.
How likely is this scenario? Remember back in 1999, when a number of universities
banned Napster because users overwhelmed their campus networks? Plenty of corporations
have banned Napster and Napster clones from the company net. Today, Napster
boasts some 62 million users, and whatever the resolution of its current legal
troubles, there are plenty of P2P enterprises surfacing with equal potential
to jam an unprepared network.
IT managers should keep in mind that P2P apps have some serious network-clogging
potential, and that they could carry additional expenses from service providers.
Analysts at the Yankee Group expect ISPs to attempt to solve the problem first
with new pricing schemes. According to Yankee analyst Bob Lancaster, rather
than raising rates across the board, we're more likely to see top service providers
offering an additional tier of service for high-bandwidth users.
David Kopans, chief financial officer at distributed computing company Applied
MetaComputing, advises IT managers and software developers alike to roll with
the P2P punches.
Dwight Davis, industry analyst for Boston-based Summit Strategies, offers
an even more succinct admonition: "The genie is out of the bottle. IT may find
that, in order to be a player, it has to buy into the P2P model. They might
have to say, Okay, fine, you guys like this technology so much, we will support
it, but we will support it by having our own subset of an accepted list of components
that you can download and add to your computers. Can they enforce that? I don't
know, but it seems more intelligent over time for the IT orgs to be players
rather than holding their fingers in the dike while the water flows over them."
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached