Complex math makes downloads, streaming more efficient

Digital Fountain is taking a stab at increasing the efficiencies of large file downloads and streaming media, using complex mathematical algorithms in its new Download Fountain and Streaming Fountain products announced this week.

Both new products are rack-mounted servers that sit between a file server (be it a streaming-media or FTP server) and a client. The technology in both machines breaks the data being sent over a network into unique packets, each containing information about the entire file based on algorithmic equations. A client that wants to receive a file only needs to gather a certain number of packets, in any order, to reconstruct the original file. The unique packets are generated until all the requests for the file or stream are completed.

"It's like taking a glass to a fountain," explains Mahal Mohan, director of product marketing at Digital Fountain. "You collect enough water until you have what you need."

On the client side, a small plug-in (400K bytes) decodes the stream and directs the file to a player for streaming media or to an operating system for downloads. The initial offering of Download Fountain and Streaming Fountain will be for on-demand content, though plans to support live broadcasts are in the works, Mohan says.

Typically, media streams or file downloads are accomplished through one-to-one connections between a server and client. Files are sent as sequential packets, with dropped packets needing to be resent before the entire file can be constructed. With the Digital Fountain approach, it doesn't matter if a packet or two is missed - the client can just select another two packets to complete the download.

"There is no need for an ACK [acknowledgement] going back from the client saying, ‘lost packet 47 - resend,'" Mohan says.

Mohan claims the benefit of the Digital Fountain method is the load on a network and server does not increase with the number of users requesting a file. "We scale based on the amount of content we're going to serve, not the number of users," he says.

Streaming Fountain is format-agnostic and does not compress a stream in any way. The first implementation, the Stream Fountain 3030, will support 2G bit/sec of output for Unicast connections and nearly unlimited connections over IP Multicast-enabled networks. The 3 Rack Unit (RU) device will be available in May for around US$100,000.

Download Fountain 1010 is a 1 RU device and will be available in June for about $US40,000.

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