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Napster, IBM promise cache savings

Napster says its Super Peer system, based on IBM's blade server architecture, will help bandwidth-hungry organizations, like universities and ISPs, conserve network assets.

Napster on Wednesday launched a digital media delivery system based on IBM blade server technology that's meant to aid universities and businesses in conserving bandwidth while offering downloads.

Delivered via IBM eServer BladeCenter systems running on Linux software, the Super Peer application is designed around the idea of active cache-management, which allows for improved bandwidth provisioning.

Napster claims the tool will help free-up valued network space for universities, Internet service providers and other organizations with networks used for downloading content.

The Los Angeles-based digital music service, re-launched by Roxio in October 2003, is increasingly marketing its services to colleges and universities, which are seen as key contributors to digital music-swapping networks. University administrators have been actively seeking ways to ameliorate legal risk and stress on their own networks as digital file sharing remains popular with students and as the recording industry pursues lawsuits against file swappers.

The new system offers universities and other customers the ability to cache digital media in on-site servers managed by Napster and IBM. Traditional peer-to-peer computing technology, which helped music services such as Napster attain wide popularity, does not account for bandwidth management. It has caused headaches for schools and other providers as waves of end users eat up network resources downloading tunes.

Super Peer is designed to save customers bandwidth and money by letting them to keep frequently accessed digital media files in their cache systems so users can download the files without leaving their networks. Napster estimates that in a typical university or ISP setting, such a system could save as much as $50,000 per year in bandwidth-related expenses.

"The reason we called (the system) Super Peer is because we think it represents the best aspects of peer-to-peer computing, but puts the caches in the right places and adds network security," said Bill Pence, Napster's chief technology officer. "In a typical peer-to-peer network there are usually only a few content sources distributed randomly; this brings the content much closer to the users."

The Penn State test drive
Among the first institutions to pilot Super Peer will be Pennsylvania State University, which was also the first school to sign-on for Napster's university program. Last November, PSU reached a deal with Napster to give students access to music funded by student fees, in an attempt to replace campus file swapping with legal listening alternatives.

Since launching its download system in January, Penn State students have accounted for a staggering average of 100,000 file streams and downloads per day. That number appears even more impressive when considering that the program has only 10,000 registered users. According to Pence, these figures only validate Napster's strategy to actively court universities as customers.

"If you look at file sharing in the university setting, most of the problems were caused by the legal issues and network traffic," Pence said. "When we relaunched Napster we helped reduce the liabilities of file sharing; here we're addressing problems related to bandwidth purchasing fees."

Pence said Super Peer also increases universities' network security by eliminating the potential presence of hidden programs such as spyware and spoofed files, since Napster and IBM actively manage the systems and monitor them for unauthorized content.

In addition to supporting the Napster application on its server systems, IBM is offering installation, support and managed-services packages for the system, including several payment options.

Napster is making Super Peer immediately available to institutions already providing its services to end-users.