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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

There's at least eight young companies with peer-to-peer content delivery network stories on the market at the moment, each hoping to revolutionize the internet and save companies money, but Altnet Inc, which launched this week, reckons it can leapfrog them all,

The company, a subsidiary of Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc, has distributed client software to about 25 million consumers, by quietly piggybacking on the popular KaZaA file-trading software, and now hopes to leverage that user base to deliver services to consumer-oriented media companies and ultimately other types of enterprise.

Altnet this week announced it has launched the first stage of the Altnet Resource Network, a P2P network of consumer PCs that the company ultimately hopes to exploit to sell wholesale storage, bandwidth and processing to enterprise customers. Some participants will be compensated with reward points, tradable for goods and services.

The idea of a virtual supercomputer, powered by the spare processor cycles and bandwidth of thousands of PCs, is anything but new. The SETI@Home screensaver is the best-known project. Big names such as IBM Corp have thrown their weight behind so-called "grid computing" and dozens of other companies have tested the water.

But of the companies that hoped to make a business out of such systems, the success rate is low. Popular Power Inc tried it and is now out of business. Juno Online Services Inc (now one half of United Online Inc) had a "virtual supercomputer" that faded away.

Altnet thinks its chances of being successful are much higher, due to its ready-made distribution network - KaZaA - which will be a basis for building up its own network. Surviving companies that had service-based ideas, such as United Devices Inc and Porivo Inc are potential Altnet customers.

CEO Kevin Burmeister told ComputerWire: "To start with, with have a significant distribution advantage. Altnet has been distributed to 25 million-plus desktops."

The first stage of the ARN rollout is TopSearch. When a KaZaA user enters a search term the top three results will not come from files listed on the KaZaA network, but from an index of paid sponsors maintained by Altnet and distributed to KaZaA peers. The search results will link to media files (protected with Microsoft Corp's digital rights management technology) on Altnet seed peers.

Next quarter, the ARN will launch fully, with certain users invited to install an Altnet "dashboard" application that allows them to control the amount and timing of computing and bandwidth resources they contribute to the network. These "qualified PC" partners will be given reward points as "rent".

Named launch customers include 2K Sounds, a record label in the EMI stable, and computer games maker Infogrames, but Burmeister says more content providers are on board. Many dislike the idea of distributing over KaZaA, but have more confidence in the control Altnet gives them, Burmeister said.

Altnet's competition will include the likes of CenterSpan Communications Corp, which bought the assets of the old Scour Inc P2P networks and has Sony Corp on board as a content provider, as well as companies such as Yaga Inc, which operates a "digital content marketplace" with a web/P2P hybrid structure.

In addition, there are several other companies that could claim to be competitors. RedSwoosh Inc and EverNet Inc are still in stealth mode, but are expected to have similar offerings when they launch. Napster, if it ever leaves legal and financial purgatory, could prove troublesome, particularly with the Napster brand and backing from new parent Bertelsmann AG.

Kontiki Inc initially seemed like it was going after the same market, but is now focusing on selling software to enterprises that want to create their own CDNs, a strategy it says it had all along. Avaki Inc, formerly Applied Metacomputing Inc, and Uprizer Inc both have similar software strategies.

© ComputerWire. All rights reserved.

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