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'Avalanche' Could Ease In-House App Deployment

Microsoft steps into the BitTorrent file-sharing space with 'Avalanche.'

Microsoft's new peer-assisted content-distribution system has yet to offer any real competition to popular file-sharing tools such as BitTorrent when it comes to downloading TV programs and movies.

But the Redmond software giant might gain some traction for the Microsoft Secure Content Distribution (MSCD) system -- which is in development at Microsoft's Research Lab in Cambridge, Mass., under the code-name "Avalanche" -- by promoting it as a faster alternative to its download center for tools and platform releases.

Redmond recently suggested that developers seeking to download Visual Studio 2008 beta 2 consider using MSCD, through which "content providers can distribute content -- from media to software -- securely and with the knowledge that their IP rights will be protected, and consumers can be sure that they are getting legitimate content."

In a peer-to-peer model such as BitTorrent, a peer (node) simultaneously grabs different pieces of a file from other peers with which it's connected, explains Neil Macehiter, principal industry analyst at U.K.-based Macehiter Ward-Dutton Ltd. Microsoft calls this a "swarming" technique. Avalanche, however, uses a "network coding" approach, in which peers produce linear combinations of blocks of the files, which are distributed together with a tag describing the parameters in the combination. This approach improves performance and removes bottlenecks where lots of peers are waiting for content from one node, according to Microsoft.

In the short term, MCSD may have the most value to enterprise shops deploying in-house apps, says Macehiter: "There is no doubt that peer-to-peer distribution mechanisms are powerful. They're already used to distribute products and content. As well as the enhanced mechanism for distribution, the security and content-protection capabilities are obviously important for providers of assets."

John L. Miller, software development manager in Microsoft's Cambridge incubation team, divides peer-assisted solutions into two types: systems in which peers serve files, even when they're not actively downloading them, which he calls "always on" systems; and systems in which peers serve files only while they're actively downloading that specific file, which he calls "greedy" systems.

In his blog, he writes: "The framework we use in MSCD leaves the choice of whether to behave as an always-on or a greedy system in the hands of the programmer. For the MSCD CTP, which allows users to download Visual Studio 2008 beta 2 images, we've configured the client to behave as a greedy client. In other words, you only share with other peers until you finish your download, and then you disconnect from the cloud."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on ADTmag.com, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at john@watersworks.com.


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