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Kontiki: Shortcuts for content's trip to the edge. (Profile).

When electronic files get zapped from one location to another, you probably aren't thinking about the physical distance they must travel--or how that distance might affect the time it takes to get there. But if you work for CDN company Kontiki, this is just about all you think about. Championing a P2P-like "bandwidth harvesting" technology, Kontiki has figured out how to not only quickly distribute content to the "edge" but to utilize a combination of centralized servers and a network of end-user machines to collect, or "harvest," underutilized bandwidth and make redundant file requests more efficient.


Founded in November 2000, California-based Kontiki, formerly known as Zodiac Networks, is headed by CEO and chairman Mike Homer. Kontiki provides a software-based content delivery network that delivers rich media content over the Web. The technology searches and uses the untapped bandwidth of millions of networked PCs at the "outer edge" of the Internet, which are controlled by a series of redundant and fault-tolerant network management servers directly attached to the Internet backbone. This is the key difference between Kontiki and services like Akamai or Digital Island, which build their technologies around servers that are chosen for content delivery, depending on the content recipient's physical proximity to the server itself. "We define the outer edge of the Internet differently," says Tony Espinoza, Kontiki's vice president products & services. "Kontiki uses its centralized servers which utilize our client's own shared bandwidth to receive and deliver content, similar to a peer-to-peer environment."


Bandwidth harvesting is what sets Kontiki apart from other similar technologies. "Other technologies, like what Akamai and Digital Island offer, for example, have a network of tens of thousands of servers, a large amount of hardware that is expensive to maintain," says Espinoza. Kontiki, on the other hand, aggregates underutilized Internet capacity to efficiently deliver video, software, audio, and document files. "Our technology determines which computers request the same digital media files, identifies the best paths available across the Internet, and connects them by using a Web-based network to deliver the content to end-users," adds Espinoza. "Compared to systems that utilize thousands of servers, Kontiki's bandwidth-harvesting method offers a more cost-effective solution for content providers that want to deliver large content files to their end-users." There are three key parts of Kontiki's bandwidth-harvesting technology: time shifting, adaptive rate multiserving, and outer-edge caching.


"Time shifting helps content providers with the delivery of big files during off-peak time, when it is less expensive," says Espinoza. By using Kontiki's network, customers will have another choice besides paying for a fixed bandwidth connection or being priced based on their peak bandwidth use. Content providers face the problem of end-users' demand for content during peak hours of the day, which creates choppy bandwidth use that fluctuates throughout the day--something that Espinoza says can raise the cost of delivering content because content providers would be using both off-peak and peak bandwidth use time. "The way that Kontiki addresses this problem is that its network directory gathers information on end-users that have signed up to receive content updates, such as new versions of software programs or releases of new music, which would normally be delivered one time or every week, and delivers the requested content during off-peak hours," explains Espinoza. This method allows content providers to del iver the media and pay for every megabyte used during content distribution. Espinoza says that the method does not interfere with the use of other programs when desktops receive the content, since the process is done in the background without slowing down other open applications.


Adaptive rate multiserving is the part of Kontiki's technology that resembles a peer-to-peer environment. While other services depend on one origin server to provide the delivery of a file, Kontiki utilizes multiple servers within its network to download the same file in multiple parts simultaneously in order to increase download speed. We can experience a similar procedure when downloading an MP3 file from a peer-to-peer service like KaZaA's media desktop program, for example. In this case, if you request to download a music file that multiple logged-on users have, the service crawls the network, finds users with the same file, and starts downloading the one file in multiple parts from multiple users simultaneously, making the download much faster than, say, other Napster-like services, which normally download an entire file from just one source at a time. Kontiki chooses to request bigger chunks of the one file from those computers that provide the quickest response time, most available bandwidth, and leas t congested connections to ensure the use of the fastest delivery paths, resulting in a quicker end-user download. Similar to software programs like KaZaA, if for any reason a file is not completely downloaded, "Kontiki continues the download right where it left off, without the need to start the download all over again," says Espinoza.


Building a network that works similarly to a peer-to-peer environment facilitates file-swapping among computers at the outer edge of the network whose users have requested the same files, reducing demands on central servers. The Kontiki Delivery Network forms a Relay Cache in which each computer receiving a file passes it on to one or more other computers that need it as well. Relay formation enables computers to link to other computers when requesting a common file, without extending the connection too far into the Internet. This avoids having to download multiple copies of the same file from Kontiki's central server.


Kontiki pilot customers in the enterprise market include companies that utilize the technology generally to establish communication between worldwide sales teams, provide employee training, and provide product demos via television-quality video presentations. Verisign uses Kontiki to deliver content--to partners, employees, customers and investors--to communicate with partners and customers, and to train employees on Verisign products and services. Other pilot enterprise customers include Loudcloud and TiVo. Kontiki provides content distribution services for companies within the entertainment industry for delivery of content that can be viewed in full-screen.


According to Espinoza, customers could implement Kontiki in the enterprise for $6,300 per month. This includes $3,000 for 500,000 megabytes of bandwidth; $3,000 in application fees and backend tools; and $300 in content storage fees.

Kontiki's technology offering seems to provide a cost-effective alternative for content providers instead of having to build your own server-based network from the ground up. Choosing to implement central servers and a peer-to-peer environment seems to be a good idea that by "lowering hardware maintenance costs by at least $140,000 per year," says Espinoza, "it should keep Kontiki stable in the market with a good return of investment."


JOHANNE TORRES is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.

CEO: Mike Homer

No. employees: 52

Founded: 2000
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Author:Torres, Johanne
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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