Napster Looks to Big Blue, Linux To Deliver Downloads

Online music store Napster announced this week a new cache-management technology that uses Linux, open standards and IBM services to provide its music service for universities, ISPs and businesses without impacting bandwidth or introducing security threats.

The application, dubbed “Super Peer,” will use IBM eServer BladeCenter systems running Linux with IBM services to cache Napster content in on-site servers managed by Napster. The service will be made available to institutions such as Penn State University and the University of Rochester, which currently provide Napster to those on campus through agreements with the company.

The Super Peer application highlights the significant change in technology used by Napster, the original peer-to-peer (P2P) file-swapping service that was shut down by copyright claims and reborn under parent company Roxio as a legitimate online music service. Rather than offering a vast catalogue of songs to be shared, Napster is now more of an e-commerce site, according to Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman.

“One could argue they tried to maintain some of the old features like community boards and shared playlists, but it’s a commerce site now,” Goodman told LinuxInsider. “It’s … not a file-trading platform.”

Big Blue to the Rescue

Hence the need for e-commerce infrastructure, which Napster said will allow the availability of its services while at the same time reducing bandwidth issues and preserving service quality of other simultaneously running applications.

Napster chief technology officer Bill Pence said the effort — and the university program to get college-age file-traders weaned off illegitimate P2P services — are part of the company’s strategy of alleviating technical and business strains placed on universities and ISPs as a result of illegal file sharing.

“With its experience in on-demand computing and its reliable and space-efficient blade server system, IBM enables Napster to scale the Super Peer application for many diverse institutions in an unparalleled way,” Pence said.

IBM Global Media and Entertainment Industry vice president Steve Canepa said the secured, eased access for users is key to the future of the media and entertainment industries.

Superior to P2P

Napster also said the open-standards-based cache-management system is superior to simple peer-to-peer technology in its ability to manage bandwidth use proactively and deliver music on demand while providing central-server quality and security.

The company claimed the technology also will be attractive to universities because it will leave network resources for mission-critical applications, teaching and research unfettered.

Yankee’s Goodman conceded that traditional P2P networks do nothing to manage bandwidth, but he added that they do not necessarily need to, calling the comparisons between the two technologies a case of apples and oranges.

“P2P networks are supposed to provide something Napster doesn’t come close to — allowing music users to share it,” Goodman said.

Going to College

Napster — which said its Super Peer application uses cache management to store popular tracks locally for rapid streaming and downloading without requiring access to the open Internet — touted its university program as “industry leading.”

Goodman said the program is good for universities, which do not have to pay for the Napster program because it is built into tuition.

“From a university perspective, it has many benefits,” Goodman added. “It doesn’t suck up all of their bandwidth; it protects their system, which may be susceptible to viruses and other things with P2P; and it gets them out of the crosshairs of the [Recording Industry Association of America].”

Goodman added, however, that Napster still faces serious competition from Apple’s iTunes and the “plethora of other services out there.”

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