Friday, October 14, 2011

Signing off, very likely permanently

There is some good news, some bad news, and a killer (or maybe just artificially-induced coma - this remains to be seen) conclusion.

The good news:
There seems to be a way of shouldering one billion users on a P2P network with just some $1,000/mo central server traffic: it's called Kademlia (seminal article, wikipedia, search). Kademlia essentially creates an overlay network of micro-servers which, in turn, sustain the rest of the network users, while a central server is only used to log on to the network. But there's a catch: in order to distribute micro-server services over a P2P network there have to be at least ~1% of the participating peers that can act as micro-servers, i.e. they must:
  1. be directly connected to the internet (i.e. they are not behind a NAT or firewall)
  2. have relatively stable connections, i.e. they should stay connected tens of minutes after they completed a network operation (e.g. a chat session, a file transfer, etc)
Both of the above conditions are easily met in today's internet topology: (1) is achieved by any peer that has maximum one router and the router is UPnP-enabled, and (2) is achievable by having the P2P application remain running in the background for a certain amount of time after a specific p2p session ends, or by making the sessions themselves last a relatively long time. BTW, the most successful p2p applications currently available - Skype and BitTorrent - both do their best to enforce the above two conditions upon all the nodes on which it they are installed (by remaining online even after you click their 'close' button, and by turning on UPnP by default).

The bad news:
In brief, the bad news is that the good news don't do me much good. Because:
  • a) i no longer trust that (1) will be maintained in the future. People increasingly install cascaded routers in their homes, and UPnP does not give any signs whatsoever that it is willing to address this issue (i.e. make a computer directly accessible on the internet when connected through cascaded routers). Furthermore, ISPs can deploy new methods of preventing p2p applications from running at any time (and i don't mean filters, but rather generic methods such as CGNs and firewalls, and i really don't think this is very far fetched)
  • b) the new mobile communications paradigm will become an increasingly significant burden that a depleting pool of directly-connected peers will have to deal with (because mobile data plans are always offered through operator NATs - but, even if they weren't, a mobile peer can't be used a a server because of mobile traffic costs). And BTW, i have this feeling that one of the main reasons for which skype was sold was the realization that the pool of "supernodes" (skype's terminology for shamelessly using people's bandwidth and making $8 billions out of this scheme) is depleting and some big-pockets company will eventually need to step in and shoulder the network with dedicated servers of their own (sure, that's just a hunch, but it will be interesting to see if/when that "use UPnP" checkbox will go away from skype's connection settings, cause that'd pretty much say that skype fully transitioned to in-house supernodes)

    It happened: (and never mind the M$ lady's reply, it's damage control nonsense)

My killer conclusion:
At this point in time i'm incapable of evaluating just how serious the above challenges (1) & (2) are, let alone other unforeseen issues that might creep in; and since implementing Kademlia would require anywhere from 6 moths to one year of hard work, i'm just not ready to plunge into such an effort alone and empty-handed.

So i stop. Very likely for good.

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