May 2005 (Vol. 6, No. 5)
1541-4922/05/$31.00 © 2005 IEEE
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
In Brief: Colleges Taking File-Sharing into Their Own Hands
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Colleges and universities have been in the forefront of the US debate over file-sharing technology. College students, heavy per capita consumers of digital music, were among the most active file-sharing network users, angering content providers for not observing intellectual property claims. The downloads also drained bandwidth from campus infrastructures.
The legal battles are far from over. In fact, the Recording Industry Association of America filed charges against 405 students at 18 campuses on 13 April 2005, claiming they had used resources from the government- and industry-funded Internet2 ( http://www.internet2.edu/) research network to swap large amounts of copyrighted material.
In response to these problems, many companies promoting legal and licensed music and movie downloads have been marketing themselves to colleges.
Colleges have not abandoned file sharing, however. In fact, they are pioneering technology for applications that go beyond entertainment, both in targeted P2P research such as Cornell University's Credence project (see "A (P2)Perfect Storm", http://yamashita2.computer.org/dl/mags/ds/2005/05/o5003.htm) and in planning and building new file-sharing networks. Both large and small campuses are committed to this work.
"As the CIO at a college," says Bret Ingerman, vice president for computing and information services at Vassar College, "I have to start looking away from the sharing of music, and start focusing more on ways to share materials that are relevant to the academic mission of the college."
Vassar is building an architecture with technology from Xythos Software ( http://www.xythos.com/home/xythos/index.html) that will enable small groups of students and faculty members to share files via a Web browser. Although the network, called Vspace, is a feature-rich client-server environment and not a peer-to-peer network, it will let users post files for sharing among users who have poster access.
Ingerman says the application, currently in pilot phase, will allow Vassar students and faculty members to share large digital files without the problems associated with trying to send them via email or having to physically go to a lab to make a copy on a CD or floppy disk.
"Instead of rushing to figure out all this P2P stuff," Ingerman says, "we're looking at solutions like this that really enhance the academic use of the network."
However, other campuses have opted for reinforcing P2P architectures because the size of their networks necessitates something other than client-server.
One P2P project that has garnered interest worldwide is LionShare ( http://lionshare.its.psu.edu/main), an open source P2P network being built by researchers at Penn State University.
Mike Halm, LionShare's project director and the university's senior strategist for e-learning, says the project grew out of a grant-funded assessment of Penn State's computing needs.
"We have a lot of these centralized systems, but they get bogged down at certain times of the semester. Sixty thousand students doing the same thing at the same time doesn't scale very well, no matter what kind of system you have," Halm says. "So out of the first year of the assessment project, we came up with design requirements for the kind of system the faculty, students, and researchers were telling us they needed, and to me that looked a lot like a P2P system."
LionShare, expected to be in 0.7 release in May, essentially combines P2P technology with a mechanism that ties in a user's activity to their network identification. Over time, LionShare users could connect to even larger authenticated networks of P2P users, enabling collaborative research over academic and grid networks.
"So when you share something, it's connected to that ID," Halm says. "Instead of locking everything down, we wanted to start thinking about how you can leverage the idea of being a responsible citizen with how this kind of network will work. This is a wonderful technology."