The Stack Archive

Here’s two peer-to-peer products you didn’t know were P2P

Fri 25 Apr 2014


Could P2P technology offer content providers a way round the battling internet service providers (ISPs) and issues of net neutrality and deal directly with customers? Leif Espelund thinks so.

A recent offhand comment by the Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has stirred up some conversation  about whether the company could deliver content over P2P architecture, thereby avoiding paying ISPs for the bandwidth they use, reducing Netflix’s infrastructure costs, and improving the overall quality of service. In addition to some of the obscure services mentioned in that and other articles, as well as the well-known P2P services centered around users sharing (mostly pirated) media content, there are two notable businesses that use peer-to-peer as a key to their success.

Skype – The IP telephony service, which started as Skyper way back in 2003, was built on the same backend used in KaZaA, the notorious (and not defunct) music sharing service. So it isn’t surprising that Skype is built from the ground up on P2P architecture. In fact, the name is a portmanteau of “sky” and “peer”. Skype is pretty up front about this, even outlining how the technology works on their website. Following their acquisition by Microsoft in 2011, Skype moved some of their “supernodes” onto dedicated servers within datacenters to address the increasing usage by mobile phones, but the underlying peer-to-peer system remains.

Spotify – While the popular Swedish-based subscription music streaming company has scrubbed most references off their website, the service still relies heavily on P2P technology to deliver a near instant play experience to users. To accomplish this, Spotify stores copies of the songs you play in a cache on your device and will then deliver those copies to other nearby users when needed. This allows them to avoid serving every song off centralised servers. Every user becomes another node in their content delivery network. Spotify saves on infrastructure and bandwidth costs while all users benefit from a more responsive playback experience.

So while Mr. Hastings may have just been trying to make a point, the idea that Netflix (or a competing service) could avoid the current ISP battles by moving to P2P architecture is far from a revolutionary or impossible idea. I expect many more legitimate services to embrace the technology as the expense of storing and delivering data continues to rise.

Leif Espelund writes about cloud storage for Symform,  a cloud provider built on peer-to-peer technology


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