ISPs tackle the P2P bandwidth crunch

With hundreds of thousands of MP3 copies of “”The Macarena”” out there, is it really necessary to download the one that’s 10 network hops away? Probably not, but it’s just as likely you’ll will be sucking down a far-away file as one that lives on the same block, and this is a major headache for ISPs.


service providers, like Hamilton, Ont.-based Mountain Cablevision Ltd., have decided to take traffic into their own hands. Partnering with Waterloo, Ont.-based Sandvine Inc., the company has implemented Sandvine’s “”Peer-to-Peer Policy Management solution,”” a hardware and software combination that streamlines peer-to-peer network searches to be more efficient.

Mountain Cablevision sees the move as essential to continuing to provide economical, high quality service to their customers.

The high-speed broadband provider began to notice the impact of peer-to-peer file sharing in 2000, when programs like Napster and Morpheus were popular with many of their subscribers. The file-sharing movement took Mountain Cablevision by surprise, as it did many other ISPs at that time.

“”We’re hoping the Sandvine unit and the engineers at Sandvine will give us visibility into what’s going on here so we don’t get blindsided by it. What happened with Napster was we didn’t know what was going on. People in their homes that were subscribing to our services really caught us off guard,”” admits technical director Bruce Marshall.

As traffic peaked, the service provider was able to identify it as coming from peer-to-peer traffic due to the program-specific ports being used.

The Sandvine solution, which is individually tailored and priced per service provider, attempts to maximize network efficiency by influencing the search scope of peer-to-peer outreaches.

Sandvine’s technology is more about traffic directing than it is about traffic shaping or blocking. “”It’s hard to do that and not penalize your subscribers,”” said Tom Donnelly, vice-president and co-founder of Sandvine. “”What our solution tries to do is to spare the user experience by influencing the sphere of search to impact applications that attempt to look for content.””

Mountain Cablevision is enthusiastic about Sandvine’s solution, as it will enable them to provide faster service to customers while economizing on bandwidth.

“”If you can keep traffic local it’s going to be much faster than going ten hops across the Internet,”” said Dale Turner, a network technologist with Mountain Cablevision.

Not only does Sandvine’s peer-to-peer management system allow traffic to be directed to more local networks, it allows the service provider to set policies on how network traffic will behave in certain scenarios. The ISP is able to flag specific hosts as consistently overloaded, or as expensive, and Sandvine will influence network traffic away from those hosts.

“”We allow the service provider to set cost segments; there’s a concept in our product called ‘least cost network routing,'”” says Donnelly. “”Service providers can apply a relative value to network segments and express a preference that peer-to-peer file sharing traffic transit one point first before it transits another point. They can set policies that influence the ‘section’ or the way this kind of traffic impacts their network. They may have congestion on one network which they may wish to avoid, so different service providers will set different policies.””

While Mountain Cablevision evaluated a number of other traffic management solutions before settling on Sandvine, Marshall is quick to point out that no other package did exactly what Sandvine’s package offers.

“”If you want to say we’re interested in improving the routing of their network, the Sandvine is what you want,”” he said.

For Mountain Cablevision, the package is a way to ease the burden on their infrastructure without having to go to the lengths of directly limiting subscriber activity.

Large service providers, like Rogers, have opted to go the more traditional route of simply capping uploads and downloads at a fixed rate.

“”We certainly understand the use of peer-to-peer file sharing and clearly this is an evolution of the use of the Internet,”” acknowledged Taanta Gupta, Rogers’ vice-president of communications.

Some smaller ISPs asked to comment on their technological response to peer-to-peer networking were reluctant to do so for fear of publically appearing anything other than strictly pro-copyright. Several other small ISPs have yet to implement measures at all.

Peter Rocca of London, Ont.-based Multiboard Communications says his ISP hasn’t had to take steps so far.

“”We haven’t taken any technological measures to date and do not have any plans to do so in the near future,”” says Rocca, who added that if Multiboard were to take such a step, it would likely be in the arena of traffic shaping.

Mountain Cablevision sees their relationship with Sandvine as a relationship that will help them build quality, now and in the future.

“”We’re counting on Sandvine to develop those tools to help us see what’s going on and in that way we can make network modifications to improve the way customers enjoy the service,”” said Marshall.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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