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Micorsoft 'bites' BitTorrent with Avalanche

Microsoft dips its toes into P2P, and talks up its potential. John C Dworak calls it 'a scheme to discredit BitTorrent'. Just what is Avalanche, and why is it important?


21 June, 2005: The world’s largest software maker is at it again. In a bid to outrival BitTorrent systems, the software major is working on what it calls 'Avalanche,’ which enables breaking data into small easily transferable packets, thereby accelerating download speed.

Microsoft proposes to use a new technique called network coding for this, media reports said. It is not known when Microsoft would unleash its Avalanche. With Micorsoft’s Avalanche, downloads would be 20 to 30 times faster using network coding approach. We should remember that Microsoft Avalanche is right now just a paper - and no actual product is ready yet.

BitTorent has been a useful tool for firms hosting huge files, but came in for flak from Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), accusing it of widely promoting online piracy. People can distribute whatever files they want using their internet connections; and those who want a particular file can receive it from several machines together.

Similarly, Microsoft’s Avalanche makes use of desktop PCs to distribute files, instead of relying on servers and network links. The logic is to create something similar to Bittorrent, but which has digital rights management protection. With this Microsoft hopes to gain wider acceptance among those who have been taking on peer to peer (P2P) sites like MPAA, and the embattled entertainment industry. 

At present P2P file delivery systems use swarming techniques to get different pieces of a file from multiple nodes. 

But the sheer amount of content BitTorent allows would be a lure for most users, according to analysts. It remains to be seen how Microsoft aims to tackle this. The established base of people already sharing massive amounts of files, music and movies almost exclusively use BitTorrent, and as such, it is considered the biggest threat to the entertainment industry. 

Bram Kohen, the brain behind BitTorrent, has lambasted Micosoft’s answer for BitTorrent calling it 'vaporware.' “It isn't a product which you can use or test with, it's a bunch of proposed algorithms. There isn't even a fleshed out network protocol. The 'experiments' they've done are simulations,” Kohen said in his blog.

As the 'battle' between Avalanche and BitTorrent rages, the basic principle of both remains the same. A large file is to be distributed to many people while the bandwidth is not sufficient to deal with this sort of traffic. Avalanche as well as BitTorrent comes into play here.

They follow the principle of breaking this file into smaller pieces and does the distribution to a number of users. These users share the bits and pieces to build the complete file. 

Microsoft re-encodes the pieces of broken-up data. The shared blocks are linear combination of all the broken blocks. The blocks are distributed with a tag containing its parameters, which makes the reconstruction process easy. All the original blocks are not needed to reconstruct it, which means that there is no need to wait for specific blocks which may be missing. 

However capable Avalance might be whenever it finally comes out, the fact remains that currently it is not even in alpha or beta form. John C Dworak laughs at the tnrie idea, saying that there are graphs circulating that pretend as if Avalanche is 'already out there in the wild' and is being used. But then, those are standard Microsoft tactics when they discuss future products. For what Avalance could really do, we all will have to wait till we see a publicly available Alpha version, at the very least.




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