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Startup uses peer-to-peer to ease WAN bandwidth woes

Use of video files is becoming more common in the enterprise, but wide area networks can quickly become congested by multiple copies of the same video. A company called Bandwiz is addressing that issue with a new product that uses peer-to-peer technology to distribute large video files to remote offices without clogging the WAN.

It doesn't take long for companies that communicate using large video files to realize that they face bandwidth limitations, particularly over wide area networks (WANs). One vendor is addressing this problem by tailoring peer-to-peer file sharing to the enterprise.

Bandwiz Inc., a Framingham, Mass., startup, this week released a product called DistributeIt that allows IT managers to distribute large files to remote offices using a minimum of WAN bandwidth.

Instead of e-mailing duplicate copies of a video to several remote staff members, DistributeIt sends a single copy for use by all the employees in a remote office. The software evaluates available space on a remote office's PCs, and then sends an encrypted copy of the video to each remote site, where it is stored on a single PC.

When users in the remote office log on to their PCs, they receive a message that asks them to look at the file. By clicking on the link, they download the file from a co-worker's PC in that office over the local area network (LAN).

That approach takes advantage of the abundant bandwidth on the LAN while conserving bandwidth on the WAN, where it is less plentiful and more expensive, said Dan Sapir, vice president of business development for Bandwiz.

Bandwiz's product can be particularly valuable for financial services companies, said John Crocker, chief information officer of New York-based Enterprise Iron, an IT consulting firm that focuses on the financial services sector. Those companies are beginning to do much more video distribution, particularly for training, he said.

Since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in 2001 to thwart terrorism, financial services companies have had to dramatically change the way they track customer information. Most have had to retrain employees who deal with customer data, including workers in remote offices. Many companies are reluctant to spend as much on travel, so online training using video distribution is becoming more common.

For enterprises with offices around the globe, bandwidth can be a pressing issue. While secure, high-bandwidth WAN connections are common and only moderately expensive in the U.S., overseas they can be unreliable and cost many times more, Crocker said.

One of the biggest benefits of the Bandwiz approach is that it can track how employees use a video, Crocker said. It can identify who downloaded which clips and how long they were viewed for.

But DistributeIt is not a great product for every company, said Dan Keldsen, a senior analyst with the Boston-based research firm Delphi Group. For those companies with a few employees in many remote offices, it can be great, he said. But companies that have, for example, five remote offices with 1,000 employees each will likely have plenty of WAN bandwidth to those offices and won't need a tool such as DistributeIt.

Bandwiz is certainly not the only company taking a stab at this problem. Hardware manufacturers such as Cisco Systems Inc. have content delivery systems designed specifically for remote offices. Many portal companies, such as San Jose, Calif.-based BackWeb Technologies, are also addressing the problem.

But one of the benefits of Bandwiz's approach is that the product is very simple to install, it comes on a single disk, and its approach takes into account the abundant bandwidth on the LAN and the limitations of the WAN, Crocker said.


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