Services & Software

Intel, others fund Freenet creator's start-up

Uprizer, a peer-to-peer infrastructure company co-founded by Freenet creator Ian Clarke, receives a $4 million investment from Intel and others.

Uprizer, a peer-to-peer infrastructure company co-founded by Freenet creator Ian Clarke, received a $4 million investment from Intel and others Wednesday.

The investment will help the 8-month-old company bolster its management staff and continue developing its technology, which is being built on elements of Freenet, Uprizer said. Other investors in its initial round of funding included Kline Hawkes and Shugart Venture Fund.

Clarke, one of the staunchest proponents of peer-to-peer networks' ability to protect people's freedom of speech, is drawing on what he's learned from developing Freenet to create a commercial venture targeting businesses instead of consumers.

"There are some aspects of the Freenet architecture that are largely unrelated to the philosophical underpinnings which we feel can work for commercial purposes," said Clarke.

Uprizer's emergence comes as the enthusiasm for peer-to-peer technology wanes from the initial flurry of investor and media attention that followed the increasing popularity of Napster's file-swapping service. In the last year, a series of copyright-infringement lawsuits against Napster and rival Scour scared off venture capitalists and sapped fervor in the burgeoning market. But behind the scenes, large investors including Sun Microsystems and Intel have stepped in to buttress the industry's development.

Sun, through its new "Jxta" project (pronounced "Juxta"), hopes to create a standard development platform for peer-to-peer applications. Intel also set up a networking standards group, of which Uprizer is a part.

Intel's investment is a further sign of its intense interest in the peer-to-peer market. The chipmaker has invested in peer-to-peer company Groove Networks and similar concerns. It is betting that the growth of such technology will use massive amounts of processing power and fuel demand for more powerful chips.

"Intel has a big interest in peer-to-peer. When you're talking about 'peer,' you're usually talking about a PC. And we supply the processing power for the PC," said Robert Manetta, an Intel spokesman. "Uprizer has an innovative application for content distribution, and we're interested."

Back to the roots of the Internet?
Clarke's first venture, Freenet, is a file-sharing network that allows people to search for and retrieve files from individual computers around the world. It was designed to prevent censorship and maintain people's anonymity in the dissemination of information. This way, it is more impervious to legal attacks than other peer-to-peer networks such as Napster.

Uprizer's first product, scheduled for release sometime in late summer, will draw on Freenet's ability to cluster demand for information and deliver that data more cost effectively.

"If 1,000 pieces of the same information from the U.K. were requested by people in the U.S., it would travel overseas 1,000 times," Clarke explained. "Through Freenet, it would travel once, making more efficient use of the infrastructure.

"In doing that, you can get significant costs savings in terms of the bandwidth required to distribute information."

Uprizer's technology will also pull from Freenet's approach to security. By using strong encryption for content transferred between networks, the inherent insecurity of hardware is mitigated, Clarke said.

Rob Kramer, Uprizer co-founder and chief executive, said that things are moving quickly for the company and customers are lining up.

The product release could signal that peer-to-peer is growing up. File-sharing technology from the likes of Napster, Freenet and Gnutella has held a renegade, Libertarian image in the minds of staid corporations and backers looking to squeeze dollars from the wild popularity of such free services. By finding a commercial use for such technology, investors may finally get what they're looking for.

In Clarke's view, peer-to-peer technology is the antidote to the trouble that dot-coms created.

"P2P is the natural successor to the dot-com approach to the Internet--we're getting back to the roots of the Internet," he said. "It is part of the reality that the Internet is really about interaction, and about participation, and not so much about these highly centralized approaches from dot-coms."