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Start-up bets against P2P distribution

As more start-ups crop up with peer-to-peer technology for easing Web traffic, one company bets that the future of content distribution lies in centralized, tightly controlled networks.

As more and more content delivery start-ups crop up with peer-to-peer technology for easing the Internet's traffic problems, one new company is betting that the future of content distribution lies in centralized, tightly controlled networks.

Radiance, a start-up based in Los Altos, Calif., is providing a soup-to-nuts content distribution management product that promises to handle the dissemination of large files, such as full-length movies, from the moment they are encoded until money is paid for them.

"What we're doing is providing a software solution for content distribution over networks," said Radiance Chief Executive Ashfaq "Ash" Munshi, a veteran of Oracle, Silicon Graphics, Applied Materials and three start-ups. "We do the entire process, from content acquisition all the way to delivery, including every step in between--getting it down to the end user, and providing for a billing solution."

As the problem of managing digital rights to online content continues to loom over the Internet, and as bandwidth costs drop, Radiance is operating on the assumption that the now sluggish market for secure distribution of content could be poised to explode.

Content distribution, or delivery networks, aim to shorten the distance files travel over the Internet by serving them from widely distributed computers closer to people downloading the files. Companies like Akamai Technologies, iBeam and Digital Island use server caches and routing mechanisms to store files and distribute traffic.

The latest wave in content distribution networks is to model distribution networks after once-wildly popular online music distribution service Napster, harnessing the capacity of a collection of far-flung individuals' computers to serve content. Start-ups working on P2P distribution networks include Kontiki, Blue Falcon, Yaga, Open Cola, Peer Genius, Emikolo and Red Swoosh.

But while the next wave of content delivery start-ups focuses on P2P, Radiance is eschewing this approach altogether. Instead, the company is betting that content providers will be scared off by P2P's security and reliability liabilities and fall back on traditional distribution networks.

"Content distributors want a guarantee that the song got there and in a form that they can actually charge money for," Munshi said. "Those are the kinds of things that require really heavy-duty transaction semantics. We feel that the P2P model, while a very good model if it can get a lot of people to adopt it, has a lot of drawbacks."

By operating over centralized, tightly controlled networks, Radiance hopes to avoid P2P pitfalls, including download interruptions when peers in the network turn off their computers; the possibility of spreading viruses or other hostile code between peers; providing a compelling but legal incentive for peers to join the network; and last, the difficulty in guaranteeing the delivery and integrity of files people expect to pay for.

Radiance plans to license its software both to companies distributing content to the general public and to corporations communicating with employees over an intranet. The company already has customers signed up but declined to name them. Munshi called Akamai, iBeam and Digital Island "natural partners" for the start-up.

Privately funded Radiance, with a $4 million investment from Sutter Hill Ventures, plans to launch its product in September.