Thursday, May 15, 2008

Adobe Introduces P2P Flash Player, Kills CDNs

Update: I have written a follow up to this article which is here.

Today Adobe announced the public beta of a new Flash Player that is going to change the way we all use the Internet. More importantly, the new player changes the economics of the Internet.

Interestingly the two really key features are not getting much play in the news yet as people have focused on the new graphics capabilities. But graphics is not what is really interesting here.

The first key Flash Player feature is a peer-to-peer (p2p) technology from a company they acquired called Amicima in 2006.

The second key feature is that Flash can now save files directly to your local hard disk.

These two new capabilities together make any type of p2p application trivial. Whether you are trying to roll your own LimeWire, or you have more honorable intentions such as implementing a server-less voice over IP (VOIP) application such as Skype, the new Flash Player will make these kinds of applications trivial.

What is even more interesting than cloning existing applications, is the innovation that will be unleashed by making p2p technology an assumed part of the web protocol stack. For example, it will be a few hundred lines of code to write an AIR application that will allow you to drop a file onto an icon and have that file appear on your buddy's computer.

But the most significant impact of all of this will be economic. As I see it, this is death to the content distribution networks (CDNs). The CDNs make their money providing companies the ability to centrally store and serve heavily accessed and/or large files. For years, companies like Kontiki and Red Swoosh tried to popularize p2p delivery networks that would make it possible to move large files without using such central servers. So if you wanted to watch a video or download a large game, these p2p systems would pull that file from other users who already had it instead of from the central store.

The problem with these p2p delivery networks was that not enough people wanted to download an application that only had the purpose of saving the service provider money. In other words, companies like Red Swoosh and Kontiki didn't have enough end-user benefit to get people to download them.

But because people download Flash anyway, the chicken/egg problem associated with getting the p2p software onto people's computers is eliminated.

What all of this means is every major video site will now be able to deliver video streams, while using only a trickle of bandwidth. When the Skpye founders introduced their video service Joost, this was what they hoped to be their secret weapon. They wanted to operate a video network in the same way they operated Skype, i.e. at very low cost. But people preferred to watch videos in their browser without downloading anything special.

But baking p2p into Flash means *all* web video sites will be able to deliver video using minimal central server bandwidth. As a result, the largest and best CDN customers will disappear, or at least will radically reduce their needs because, in effect, every video website will have the low cost of operation of Joost.

Of course this is not just about video. If you have any large file movement needs that require a CDN, Flash-based p2p will be on your short list of engineering imperatives.

This new version of Flash, combined with Amazon's super low cost S3 storage system will be fatal to many CDNs. Personally, I'd be shorting every public CDN stock around the time that Adobe leaves beta with this stuff, because it spells real trouble for that market.

And if you ignore me now, don't say I didn't warn ya. For the CDN market, this is Armageddon.

32 comments:

  1. Good idea except knowing how corporations work, they won't allow you to limit upload bandwidth (but will probably throttle download bandwidth so they can show ads while downloading). Or make it so impossible to find (like the current Flash settings that you check via Adobe website).

    Will this P2P network survive after Bittorrent finishes off RIAA/MPAA? Will this be the new way to rip HD TV?

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  2. There are a few more issues that will come from the new Flash player. If web pages with p2p components become popular, people may need to learn to keep their browser open when they stop actively using it. Pop under ads can be pretty malicious if they open p2p clients and transfer big files. ISPs may have problems with the increase in bandwidth when content providers realize they can make big files available without hosting them and make popular stuff available.

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  3. Time to uninstall flash?

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  4. anonymous posters, what are you scared off?

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  5. I think it's too early to ring the death bells for CDNs. Although P2P tech in Flash is definitely provocative, it will still take time for migration and adoption. And from my own personal experience CDN's have always seemed faster and more reliable than P2P.

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  6. The P2P feature is interesting from another angle, too. Depending on how it's implemented, it may allow for easier creation of online games.

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  7. interresting but my opinion is that you are wrong at least for a while.
    I have a good knowledge of the cdn market and what is slowing the adoption of p2p is

    1) the bottleneck of the upload
    2) securities issues in acting as a server
    3) poor efficiency for long tail content

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  8. Hi Hank,
    Always a pleasure to read your posts. I think we have to wait a little to see how extensive the P2P "network" features are that Adobe is creating and what 3rd party developers can really do with the APIs that Adobe provides. Trying to read between the lines of what Adobe is saying, it may be a little less than what "P2P" often implies.
    Cheers,
    -Brian

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  9. You are wrong Hank, if you look in the release notes, the p2p protocol is based on UDP, so you will never transfer files reliably over that protocol because its lossy, data is lost along the way! You will only deliver streaming audio and video.

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  10. Hi Hank,

    Great post, but as usual I must advertise my ignorance about P2P. At one time my cable provider allowed us to have unique IP addresses. However, now with DHC, I cannot (or rather don't know how) to access my LAN from a remote site because of the way things are convoluted. So how will my apps deal with P2P?

    Take care,
    Bill

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  11. I don't think will be the end of CDN.

    First I doubt that Adobe will let the P2P function easy to use, they will employ some security measure like they do with webcam/mic access.

    Even if someone mange to make P2P usable for P2P video streaming, this will be good for live streaming but not that good for video on demand (youtube).

    Honestly I don't see a bright future for P2P at all. There is to much overhead and they saturate the Internet routers generating bottle necks that ISP need to handle.As P2P becomes too popular ISP's start capping.

    I think Adobe is using P2P to add VOIP in Flash player. What can really make a difference in social network sites. Maybe FlashPlayer 10 can turn the pc-to-pc phone market way more competitive.

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  12. Building in P2P support into a Flash Play is a natural thing to do, so I am actually surprised they haven't done it earlier. And their commitment for this stuff became pretty much obvious right after Amicima acquisition, which was purely technology/talent purchase. Good move, Adobe. Smart, though kind of obvious :)

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  13. Brian,

    Good to hear from you! Perhaps there will be limitations, but I am not sure what those would be. You seem to have ideas of where those limitations might be. Care to take some guesses?

    ncu,

    Most if not all p2p is UDP. That does not prevent accurate transfer of data. All it means is that you may need to retransmit packets that end up missing. This is not a problem.

    Bill,

    The intermediary will be flash media server, which will figure out your IP address on the fly so its not something you as a user will ever have to deal with.

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  14. At the end of the day its about economics. If this, or any other p2p system can show remediation towards revenue accountibility, then you are right. If not, perhaps you may reconsider your postion. The cross in the road is getting the people that build content paid. In the absence of that, nothing else really matters

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  15. I don't think P2P will necessarily kill CDNs. It's not like P2P is superior in every way, I actually find CDNs a lot more reliable and easier to use (no need for port forwarding or any of that crap). This is exactly what people said about torrents, and I don't see them completely owning the market. Actually, I hardly ever see any [legal] torrent downloads.

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  16. I think you've jumped the gun, unless you have specific information.

    Amicima had two products: a UDP streaming protocol and a p2p layer that used the protocol. Nothing in the notes talks about p2p, and given Adobe/MM's desire to lock Flash to their streaming server software, a pure p2p component is very unlikely.

    This is all before you get into the security problems of such an idea.

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  17. Well it sounds very interesting, and look forward to seeing what people do with it.

    However, I don't want my PC having a popunder start redistributing ads for someone else. No thanks.

    And while you pay a lot of attention to CDNs for big media files, remember that lots of people use CDNs simply for their extremely low latency. And the more *small* files you have, the more difference it makes. So while I might write off part of their business, I don't think I would do so for their entire business, unless Adobe can find a way to have it complete at that level as well.

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  18. Hank,

    Sorry I might be missing something but I don't see anything in their release note that indicate P2P capability. Can someone point it out for me?

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  19. @Anonymous A little bit about P2P can be found here: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer10/releasenotes.html#known

    it's tied to the RTMFP protocol and FMS.

    J

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  20. As a business model, being the delivery boy has a short lifespan in ANY industry. It's just a matter of time before someone builds a better mousetrap or gets enough mass to shut everyone else out.

    In the case of CDNs, these folks will need to change and become arbiters of taste, adding value as opposed to simply moving bits from one HD to another. This has been a long time coming quite frankly.

    Adobe is doing some very clever things these days. I'm really impressed with AIR and the simplicity of FLEX. This latest addition to the Flash stack really changes the game.

    Sharp post, Hank. Makes me jealous. :)

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  21. So does this mean that Flash based advertisements could be turned to a bot network, or other evil uses? If not... then they have to have user restrictions or acknowledgment questions, and that's going to be ugly.

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  22. Very interesting development. Some quick notes: Adobe has been active on the related IETF working groups for some time, particularly Henry Sinnreich in P2P SIP and MMUSIC. I've been worried this is exactly what they've been working on, although it's extremely exciting from an overall future of p2p perspective. This is probably based on P2P SIP, which means they could actually have distributed registrars and very little centralized control -- would be very impressive.

    As far as the UDP point goes, it's just not true that "most if not all p2p is UDP" -- UDP is used quite a bit in DHTs in particular, and it's sometime easier to traverse NATs with UDP, but TCP is certainly preferred because it just works better. Most p2p apps use TCP whenever they can and UDP if they must.

    -Adam Fisk
    http://www.littleshoot.org

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  23. This is a great post! The only thing that will have a more dramatic effect on the future are the entrepreneurs who read this post and "get it!"

    Seriously, you just threw lighter fluid on the fire for many of use who live for these moments.

    Awesome post!

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  24. Hank,

    The new RTMFP protocol in Flash Player 10 provides an alternative to RTMP allowing customers to develop real-time communication applications with an improved user experience. Applications like chat and games are great examples of what you are likely to see make use of this technology.

    Adobe has made no announcements regarding Content Delivery Networks and file sharing. Adobe highly values its CDN partners they are an integral component in delivering rich video experiences to Flash Player. This new protocol has been designed for communication solutions, not massive content delivery.

    We chose UDP because it’s an efficient protocol for low-latency streaming video conversations, voice conversations or other similar solutions. UDP combined with the high-fidelity of SPEEX audio, will allow our customers to build great voice and audio solutions targeting Flash Player 10. To enable RTMFP and the UDP transport, authorization from a future server-based technology such as Adobe Flash Media Server will be required.

    Flash Media Server will continue to be used to stream massive amounts of content to Flash Player because it can serve and protect video and reach the largest possible audience. New information within Flash player 10 allows a developer to monitor how a stream is arriving and make decisions if a different bit rate will improve the video experience for the end user.

    We are very excited about this new communication technology, the protection around it and being able to improve the delivery experience for both communication and media delivery to Flash Player.

    Justin Everett-Church
    Sr. Product Manager, Adobe Flash Player

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  25. Justin,

    "To enable RTMFP and the UDP transport, authorization from a future server-based technology such as Adobe Flash Media Server will be required."

    Does it means that we'll be able to use p2p only with Adobe FMS or will we be able to start a p2p connection with a custom server?

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  26. My company Dreamsocket does a lot of the video applications for the major media companies on the market, so I'll speak to this from that type of perspective. Even if you had P2P video, you still need to rely on CDNs to do initial brokered distribution. To achieve an optimum solution, its a matter of combining multiple technology pieces together in a web to get the effect you need. So you could not rely on P2P alone. P2P in content distribution has its advantages in certain outlets and not others. If you are doing ondemand and are scalable, then say a 2cent saving per gigabyte of traffic its not really much. However, if you are doing a live event or a release event of content that is going to get a massive hit (say a million concurrents) P2P affords ability to scale that you can't do even when combining multiple CDNs and doing load balancing across all of them. Now Adobe hasn't elluded to what the specifics of the capabilities will be, but regardless CDNs still play a major role in content distribution. If we ever want to see digital entertainment rival television concurrency a P2P content piece needs to be in play, but it is only one piece of a larger pie. So I wouldn't call it the death of CDNs, if anything it could actually push more content digitally (where CDNs are part of the pie) as content providers realize they can scale to larger audience #s. My 2 cents even though I'm not that bright of a cat.

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  27. P2P suffers from what I like to call the "Blanche DuBois problem", that is, "... it has always relied on the kindness of strangers."

    Those strangers are you and me, our upstream bandwidth, our hard drive space, our CPU and memory resources, and the performance of our other applications, not to mention our real or imagined privacy concerns.

    The other "strangers" are the broadband network providers ... unless Comcast gets compensated for the use of their local networks as distribution nodes, I think you will continue to see rate limiting and protocol blocking, and I think it will get more sophisticated than just well known ports and protocols.

    There is a real cost to P2P, and just because the content distributors don't bear it in a P2P world, doesn't mean it just disappears or somehow stops being a factor.

    There is P2P inside the Operating System that millions of users run (and update) on a daily basis ... why do you think THAT P2P functionality isn't turned on yet?

    I humbly submit that adoption (the problem you cite as the Adobe software addressing) is only one of many hurdles P2P will need to overcome to trigger the Apocalypse and the second coming of Napster. :-)

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  28. I understand your point but I think this kind of program sharing is illegal. I think we should think more careful before deciding which program we really want to download. Regards.

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  29. how to exchange data (arrays, objects, etc.) in RTMFP implementation?. Could anybody provide me with some samples. Thanks

    lintoka123@gmail.com

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  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

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