June 17, 2002

OpenOffice.org seeks P2P technology to help with distribution

Author: JT Smith

- By Anne Zieger -

Despite having a healthy list of mirror sites, OpenOffice.org's servers have begun to choke on the demand for binary and source file downloads. After all, the Open Source office suite was downloaded about a million times in May from its official CollabNet servers alone, and no one expects things to slow down much from now on.
To make OpenOffice files more accessible -- and give its servers a breather -- community managers are turning to the peer to peer movement, asking members for their best shot at an appropriate P2P file-sharing system.

For the first round, at least, they're handing the project over to another Sun Microsystems-backed community, P2P-oriented Project JXTA. JXTA technology is a set of open protocols allowing connected devices to communicate and collaborate. Members of the JXTA community are working on a variety of consumer and corporate projects, including a handful of content distribution and file-sharing approaches the OpenOffice.org leaders want.

OpenOffice.org has been overwhelmed by the growth in traffic since it released OpenOffice.org 1.0 on May 1, says community manager Louis Suarez-Potts. "When we just had monthly builds it was no big thing, but when we released 1.0 it was a huge deal," he says. "It made it very, very clear that in order for people to get OpenOffice products, we had to have complimentary systems, so it's spread as far as possible."

The server bottleneck should only get worse as the number of files grows -- as users translate the OpenOffice.org suite into their native language, for example -- boosting the demand for downloads, community leaders say.

The idea behind the P2P project is to build on the bandwidth-multiplying benefits P2P file-sharing technology, which should deliver documents more efficiently the more users access a file. Old-style networks clog up when the download frenzy begins, but P2P networks keep adding new nodes, scaling up ad infinitum, proponents say.

What's more, keeping bandwidth requirements to a minimum could help OpenOffice.org participants in foreign countries, who sometimes don't have access to the kind of fat pipes U.S. users typically do.

A well-designed P2P file sharing client isn't a bandwidth hog, notes Sam Hiser, co-lead of the OpenOffice.org marketing project. "You can actually configure your box to limit bandwidth use," he says. "Your participation in a P2P network can be almost invisible. You can deliver relatively few bits compared to what you download."

As it happens, the notion of using P2P to share OpenOffice files isn't new. Frustrated by Web server congestion, OpenOffice.org supporters had already begun to use the P2P file sharing apps like Gnutella to snag copies of the suite.

But OpenOffice.org project managers would like to offer users a more controlled way of getting the latest updates. If a file is distributed across the Gnutella network, there's no way to enforce file integrity or control versioning, notes John Sulski of CollabNet, Project JXTA's community manager.

OpenOffice.org managers are asking the JXTA community to develop a simple GUI-based app allowing P2P discovery, sharing and transfer of requested OpenOffice files in a manner similar to Gnutella or JXTAs' myJXTA peers. Given the bulk of some distributions, they want the system to handle large files easily (up to 100 MB). They're also asking that the app be designed to let users configure the versioning and integrity enforcement on their own, allowing them to download files other than OpenOffice.

Perhaps most importantly, the proposed system will need to check for integrity of the downloads by checking in with known secure peers already storing reference data such as checksums and version information.


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