Former Netscapers launch P-to-P startup

Kontiki, a peer-to-peer (P-to-P) startup backed by a handful of former Netscape Communications executives, unveiled itself Monday, touting its content delivery technology that it says can outperform traditional content distribution networks.

Using the P-to-P method made famous by file-swapping service Napster Inc., Kontiki said in a statement that it can deliver digital media ten times more efficiently and at one-third of the cost of traditional networks, such as those operated by Akamai Technologies Inc. and Digital Island Inc.

The Kontiki Delivery Network is largely software-based, with some servers controlling the system. Kontiki determines which computers have requested the same files, identifies the best paths across the Internet to connect them and uses this virtual network to deliver the files. Akamai and Digital Island have invested heavily in their own networks.

In addition, Kontiki said it saves cost by time-shifting downloads. Files requested by users are delivered at off-peak hours, resulting in economic bandwidth use. Typical content distribution systems charge customers for fixed connections or peak bandwidth utilization, Kontiki said.

The company waves away one of the main obstacles for commercial P-to-P networks: lack of control. The computers that make up the network are owned by individuals; there is no saying when they will disconnect. Central network management makes the Kontiki Delivery Network reliable and secure, according to Kontiki, adding that the network has self-healing capabilities, with an automatic fail-over to origin servers.

The Kontiki network is designed to distribute TV-quality video, CD-quality audio, software and games. PC users will be able to download a free client to find, schedule, download, and play files. Users will also be able to subscribe to automatic delivery services. Copyright is protected through integrated digital rights management. Kontiki will go into private testing this week with a public beta planned this year.

Mountain View, California-based Kontiki has been operating in stealth mode for nine months and currently employs 50 people. The company received US$18 million in funding from a number of venture capitalists, including The Barksdale Group, founded by former Netscape Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jim Barksdale. Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen is another investor.

Kontiki's management is also made up of several former Netscape and America Online Inc. (AOL) employees. Mike Homer, chairman and CEO, was general manager of Netscape's Netcenter portal site. Wade Hennessey, chief technology officer (CTO), worked on personalization services at AOL.

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