P2P Web Hosting Could Solve Bandwidth and Security Problems

Currently, the RIAA is suing Grokster and trying to convince the Supreme Court that Peer to Peer or P2P file sharing is a technology that has little or no legitimate uses and is almost exclusively used as a method to illegally trade music and movie files. The RIAA is complaining that P2P is severely damaging the music industry and thus this technology should be stopped. Despite the fact that the music industry reacted in the exact same way with the invention of the radio they continue to see the glass as half empty rather than trying to realize the tremendous potential P2P technology presents.

Billionaire Mark Cuban has decided to step in and fund Grokster’s legal battle. In his blog he wrote;
"If Grokster loses, technological innovation might not die, but it will have such a significant price tag associated with it, it will be the domain of the big corporations only," Cuban wrote. "It will be a sad day when American corporations start to hold their US digital innovations and inventions overseas to protect them from the RIAA, moving important jobs overseas with them."

This article takes a look at some uses P2P could be put to in the web hosting industry as a defense of innovation and as a creative stab at solving some common problems web hosts face.

While the RIAA may be wrong on a lot of points and their intention to illegalize peer to peer may be ill-founded but they are correct that P2P is used in large part for music, movie, and software swapping.

In other words, P2P file sharing has yet to be tapped into and utilized as a fully-fledged technology. Part of this is perhaps history. Products, whether it is news, music, soda pop, or hosting a web site traditionally features the product flowing from a central source to many consumers. Corporate America, like the RIAA, doesn’t take kindly to giving up the ‘control’ that this model provides over the product. However, there is one industry that has taken a peer to peer business model and made it massively profitable and it’s not even legal; spamming. Spammers can’t be stopped and they sell incredible amounts of goods. MCI was said to have made $5 billion a year hosting spammers (SendSafe) through resale hosting. Has there ever been a more virile proof of concept?
Why not take the concept that viruses, music swappers and zombie PC spammers use and put it to good use? Why not fight virus and spam with their own weapons? Why not use P2P web hosting?

Although there are multiple issues to confront in terms of serving up a site with a P2P model the advantages are speed and ubiquitous availability.

While a static web site could easily be served through a P2P model, and quite effectively at that, a dynamic data base driven page simply can’t exist without reproducing databases on supernodes which raises very large security issues not to mention the feasibility of recreating databases. Even login DBs can hold quite a lot of data as well as being quite sensitive.

At the very least though a P2P model could be used much like a browser’s image cache with the most common pages and images being distributed around a network of users of the site.

Here again a problem occurs in the issue of version management. Suppose peers checked with the central server to see if they had the latest version before sending out a file. A situation might occur where many peers were checking so often with the server to see if they were correct or not it would end up having the same effect as a DDoS attack. A sports ticker tracking the score of an ongoing game for example might cause a web host to use more bandwidth answering peer questions about versions and updating versions than simply serving up the new score for the game itself.

On the other hand, when a lovely model goes on the Howard Stern show and causes Google and Yahoo searches for her images to go up 2,000% it could keep a host from crashing horribly to have a peer network help serve up the same 5 image files.

The Fingerprint Sharing Alliance may be a first step towards P2P hosting in terms of security. The FSA is a first-of-its-kind industry initiative aimed at helping network operators share Internet attack information automatically. The Fingerprint Sharing Alliance marks the first time companies are able to share detailed attack profiles in real-time and block attacks closer to the source. This global alliance marks a significant step forward in the fight against Internet attacks and major infrastructure threats that cross network boundaries, continents and oceans.

Global telecommunications companies participating in the Fingerprint Sharing Alliance include British Telecom, MCI and NTT Communications.
And leading carriers, network providers, hosting companies and educational institutions joining the Alliance include among others; Asia Netcom, Cisco Systems, EarthLink, Rackspace, The Planet, University of Pennsylvania and XO Communications.

It’s great that web hosts are sharing security information but it’s not particularly helpful during a DDoS or Denial of Service attack.

Net security and legal expert Ben Edelman described a recent DDoS attack in his website after he posted an article on spamming, “Globat was not particularly responsive in informing me of the problem -- my site was down for one and a half business days before they told me what was going on, and they only told me when I reached out to a personal contact who happened to work there. Then again, they're a $10/month company -- not exactly premium service. I was happy with them otherwise, and for most folks I think they provide an extraordinary value.”

This is not to criticize Globat as Yahoo and Google have been taken offline and even the website for industry giant Microsoft was taken down by troubled teen Jeffrey Lee Parson’s Blaster B virus. If Microsoft is at the mercy of a teen hacker and neither Yahoo or Google can completely defend themselves then who can be expected to be able to? This highlights the obvious need for a higher level of overall security on the internet. i.e. a need for innovation.

What if, when the DDoS attack hit Edelman’s site, Globat had been able to switch on a P2P mode emergency system and distribute the files to other web hosting providers and allow them to send the files out in response to requests for the site?
No one may have even noticed Ben’s site was being attacked. Then, with P2P, the Fingerprint Sharing Alliance or ‘File Sharing Alliance’ could share attack vector information and shut down the offending zombies.

How do you fight a million zombie computers barraging a site? With a million servers of course!

This is perhaps an oversimplification in that database driven pages, and ecommerce sites would not be easily transferred on a P2P network although for a static site like Edelman’s this would have been ideal.

For a more dynamic site a P2P backup plan would only allow a limited amount of a site to be displayed but it’s a lot easier for a web host to explain to a customer why functionality is limited than to explain why a site is down completely.
A P2P technique could even be used offensively to combat spammers and hackers. The FSA could combine to knock spammers out by sharing spam source information and then spamming the spammers with mail that looks like responses to their ads or at the very least combining to lock them out of the internet.

Of course, all this is predicated on a high level of cooperation among web hosts, or rather, a large peer sharing network.

Press releases work much like a P2P form of news sharing so why shouldn’t smaller web hosts ban together to create advertising cooperatives? Web hosts or the web sites they host could also use P2P file sharing for cross site or even cross host advertising. Again, by cooperating, multiple web sites could form advertising cooperatives and share ads. While a single point of access could be developed for the advertising to make it easy for those who want to advertise to send their ads out to as wide a distribution as possible it could work from a many to many P2P model as well. When an advertiser wanted to change an add they could access their ad campaign with whatever site or host they are working through and then P2P could be used to distribute their ads through the ad sharing network. Of course, P2P would only be a small part of such a complicated project.

These are only a couple of ideas to incorporate P2P in web hosting but if the Supreme Court is wise they’ll see that P2P is more than just a music swapper.

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