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Itiva: The video file transfer killer app?

The boom in Internet videos transfers -- from movie downloads to amateur video sharing -- is causing pain in the Internet backbone.

Now a Palo Alto start-up called Itiva has popped up, saying it has found the magic pill: It says it can do something that no other start-up has offered so far: (1) It can cheapen the cost of video transmissions for big movie or video producers, and thus match the promise of the peer-to-peer technologies out there, and at the same time (2) lower the cost for the Internet service providers.

Here is the Mercury News story we ran today about Itiva and some of the other start-ups out there helping with video transfer technology.

Itiva works like this:

When a user downloads a large video file, say the latest SF Giants game from MLB.com, the individual pieces of the file are saved in that cache of the Internet service provider's network. Once there, those video pieces are latently ready so that if any other user wants to download the same game, they can do so -- and they don't have to go back to the MLB.com site. It saves MLB cash, and it also saves cash for Comcast, if that is the user's Internet service provider. Below is a diagram (click to enlarge).

In our Merc story (link above), we explain Itiva's positioning in relation to peer to peer folks like BitTorrent and Pando, and as usual we didn't have much space to delve into the subtleties.

For example, while Itiva's technology may work for popular broadcasts, such as baseball games, it won't work very well for niche programs downloaded by smaller audiences -- where there isn't enough streaming to cache it all.

Michel Billard
And the technology, while being tested by Dreamworks and others, is still too early to assess. The analysts we talked with still haven't kicked the tires properly on Itiva. So it is still he-said-she-said. For example, ATR analyst Albert Lin says Itiva cache process may be vulnerable to access by others, and thus something content owners won't like. "There's no guarantee a particular piece of content is able to be blocked or controlled," says Lin. Itiva does have security guarantees, Itiva President Michel Billard responds. "It's encrypted. No one can access it without making a request to our server."

Even if Itiva does make things secure, it faces a challenge from BitTorrent, which is busy developing its own cache capability. We reached Ashwin Navin, president of BitTorrent, while he was in London last month, managing trials with the UK's largest cable company, NTL. NTL has acquired cache technology from a company called Cachelogic, specifically to manage BitTorrent's traffic, he said. For now, Ashwin says he is confident BitTorrent's lead will hold. BitTorrent has between three to five million users a year, and traffic is up 50 percent or more compared to last year, he said.

Still, Itiva's Billard points out that NTL is still having buy the cache -- which represents a cost -- something it wouldn't have to do with Itiva's technology. So, the question is whether Itiva can really deliver a service that is radically better for all sides, so that it can break into the lead of a player like BitTorrent. The other thing to keep in mind is that BitTorrent's file sharing happens across service provider networks, and there's a cost (for service providers) each time a file transfer happens across those different networks. Itiva's advantage is that it operates within a network, and so lowers cost. But operating within a single networks can also be a disadvantage, since it means the chances of finding a particular video within a single network's cache is lower than if you have the entire Web available.

Finally, another point is that Internet service providers might decide they like certain peer-to-peer technologies, even if it is hogging up their networks. AMR's Lin says Pando's user-friendly technology could help some service providers differentiate themselves from competitors. By offering Pando on a set-top box, giving users the ability to receive large movie files, for example, a service providers might convince customers of its value - a plus that may outweigh any costs caused by Pando's peer-to-peer bandwidth usage.

Others are skeptical of peer-to-peer. Says Insight analyst Robert Rosenberg: ""The stakes are very high, and what you want more than anything else is reliability, and that's not in the peer-to-peer environment.''

So on Itiva, we will see. Itiva has raised $7 million from founders and angel, and it has engaged Kaufman Brothers LP to help it look for another $10 million. If Itiva's trials with DreamWorks are going well, and it shows those results to potential investors, raising cash should be pretty damned easy in this environment!

Update: Stu Phillips, an investor in Cacheflow (now BlueCoat Systems) chimes in here.

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Regarding this paragraph from the article in the paper:

"But BitTorrent's technology faces difficulty moving beyond its geek loyalists. You have to download BitTorrent software, pull up a directory of what video or music is available on the network, and search for items that you'd like to download -- a complicated process for some."

I haven't used Mainline for a while (Azureus ftw!), but if there is now a search capability built directly into BT, then Bram Cohen has changed one of his fundamental principles. It sounds like you are talking about a user downloading BT, finding a torrent search engine (like Torrentspy), and finding something they want to download. In my experience, this is more how most people are introduced to BT:

(they visit site that has something they want to dl)
Hello, it would help us a lot if you used this thing called BitTorrent. Here are instructions on downloading and installing it. After you are finished with that, come back here and click this link.

That's how torrents are supposed to work. I offer you torrent, you take it. That's why other p2p services still exist. BTW, I know that there are BT clients that have search boxes. I don't use them, and they could likely get shut down. That's what's kept Bram out of trouble.

Xiong Chiamiov on June 8, 2006 9:55 AM
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You're kidding, right??

P2P is *much* more mature than Matt seems to understand.

He talks to some half-baked software co. that has a wannabee customer "evaluating" their tech--are you serious??

Kontiki, Red Swoosh, Bittorrent are the leaders here, and this P2P CDN thing has been going on for years. . . Itiva's so late to the party, I'm surprised Matt didn't talk to real customers, real companies or do real research before subjecting us to this hype-o-meter rubbish. . .

Here's a news.com link from 5 years ago that does a better job describing the market:


Maybe this is a wake up call. Matt, time to start working for a living.

b/s-o-meter on June 8, 2006 11:41 AM
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to make matters worse. . .part of itiva's site seems to be down. . .

click on any of their 'news on itiva' links on the home page for instance. .. . all of them 404-file not found

If they can't reliably deliver their own text html on their low-traffic corporate site, do any buyers really believe they can actually deliver high-value entertainment content?

b/s-o-meter on June 8, 2006 11:58 AM
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to make matters worse. . .part of itiva's site seems to be down. . .

click on any of their 'news on itiva' links on the home page for instance. .. . all of them 404-file not found

If they can't reliably deliver their own text html on their low-traffic corporate site, do any buyers really believe they can actually deliver high-value entertainment content?

b/s-o-meter on June 8, 2006 11:58 AM
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Itiva is still testing with Dreamworks (including Over the Hedge), and is launching Sept 1. Thus there are no customers to talk with. Thought i made it pretty clear that it is too early to tell how these guys are going to do.

matt marshall on June 8, 2006 2:32 PM
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How is it difference from Akamai?

Wai Yip Tung on June 8, 2006 4:19 PM
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As I understand it, Akamai has its own servers, whereas Itiva uses the existing proxy/cache in a provider's network. Also, Itiva's secret sauce, as it were, is an algorithm that helps the content owner manages the delivery through this cache network.

Matt Marshall on June 8, 2006 4:44 PM
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No one is "hogging about half of the bandwidth of Akamai" or the rest of the Internet. That bandwidth is paid for twice. Once by the content providers and again by the those accessing the content. It's time for ISPs and the backbone providers to stop their lying and whining and provide the services they're being paid for.

Philip Robar on June 8, 2006 5:07 PM
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P2P is for file sharing. Itiva is for mass delivery of rich content. According to what they say, they can stream at very low cost by using the proxy infrastructure to amplify the bandwidth - this creates a multicast effect. Very clever.

Shawn on June 8, 2006 8:08 PM
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In your article "from 5 years ago" they say that Kontiki would be "the new model of distributing content online". 5 years later, Kontiki is hardly ubiquitous, right? Several reasons:
1/When people pay for content, they don't like to "share".
2/ISPs throttle packets down with packet shapers from Packeteer - ISPs hate P2P.
3/You need 20 uploaders for one downloaders - hardly scalable, is it?
4/P2P does not stream.

P2P is a social file sharing experience. Itiva is for a real mass distribution of rich content by enterprises, to real customers...

Peter Chambers on June 8, 2006 8:47 PM
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I worked on developing this type of a product six years ago at Novell and a spin-out of Novell called Volera. It was not called P2P as it is not P2P. This solution uses the proxy-cache servers in the path between the source and sink to cache content. Some of the problems that I faced then was the ISP network and cross ISP network SLA's that need to be setup for content to be cached and stored on these intermediaries. Also, the usability and the ROI for these solutions are not as high as it is expected on paper. These things work real fine with a very few high-volume traffic content. Those were extremely few in '98 and '99 and I don't think they are that great today either.
So not to rain on their parade, I would really like to see how the deployment brings value. I know the technology in and out and since I worked on this I would really like to see this become big.
One surprising fact is that it was new technology six-seven years ago and it is very new now too?

Sukanta Ganguly on June 9, 2006 6:02 AM
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That's good perspective. Itiva told me that they plan to focus only on high-end volume traffic -- arguing that things have indeed changed over the past eight years, i.e, that there's an IPTV revolution happening, and thus a large enough market to serve...we shall see.

Matt Marshall on June 9, 2006 7:04 AM
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I'm not sure what b/s-o-meter's problem is. This person seems content to just watching cat's pass gas and other "compelling" streaming video content instead of giving mature solutions a chance to deliver rich media. I don't exactly know where the bitterness comes from unless it is just stubborn ignorance about the deeper levels of delivery technology. By the way, I checked all of the links on Itiva's website and they worked fine. B/S-o-meter: Did you check to see if your internet connection was working properly? Maybe you just picked up another virus from one of your P2P video searches for the next "funniest home video" moment.

J. C. M. on June 11, 2006 11:14 AM
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This is Incredible! What do you think about this?

KC on August 29, 2006 10:57 AM
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This is good way to relieve your frustrations!!

Dot on August 29, 2006 11:02 AM
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