P2P Infrastructure - Questions and Answers

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Curated selections from the discussions on P2P Infrastructure at the Google Group: Building a Distributed Decentralized Internet


This documentation project is related to the ContactCon conference to be held on October 20, 2010 in NYC.


Q & A 001 from Building a Distributed and Decentralized Internet

Curated material compiled by Venessa Miemis:

Q1. Is it that we want to be able to use the web we know today on a decentralized hardware and software infrastructure? Why?

A1. Yes, we should be able to take existing open protocols and web technologies and run them on a distributed internet. It can work with what will very likely be a reasonable investment on targetted development in the traditional web application "stack". I'd like to see a distributed hardware/network medium where people can pool hardware resources and network connection node resources to run some variant of practically anything they can do on the internet now (starting with the simplest things, like message passing, etc).

A1:Counterpoint. The very best distributed stuff we do right now is in data centres, where bandwidth between nodes is massive, and we can handle the coherence stuff on high volatility data. Those guys really can plug anther node in and get N + 1 benefit. If it was possible, we would do it between datacentres, and then between individual computers, but it is just not feasible with our current technology.

There is a subset of problems for which we can achieve fine grained distributed (lower volatility data gets easier, as does data for which very eventual consistency is ok), but that really is the question - is that subset sufficient? There's some discussion about techies and non- techies here, so I think we need to be clear that the ideal of the distributed internet from a philosophical perspective and the reality of the technology at this point in time are different things. We also need to be clear that a distributed internet won't behave the same as our current internet. e.g. latency, reliability and performance profiles will noticeably be different.

Q2. What are existing US rules (and EU rules too) around radio spectrum? Particularly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_spaces_(radio) in US?

A2. EU has no white spaces yet, as far as I'm aware. The US recently announced its rules so white spaces protocol finalization and use should begin in the next year or two. FCC rules: There are Part-15 bands (also called ISM) where any unlicensed user can transmit up to a ceiling of power (100mW for 2.4gHz, etc). These devices must receive all interference and minimize their transmission of interference. All of these rules are about interference avoidance and mitigation. They also protect licensed users above all others...like if you point a relatively small transmitter at a satellite's transponder and jam it you might go to jail.

Modern radio technologies are able to use any part of the spectrum as efficiently as possible and "tune around" interference. Ultra Wideband radios can pull transmissions out from below the noise floor on many bands, so that most users can't even hear them because they don't know what to look for. This stuff is here now and has made licensing a tool for incumbent monopolies and not really a technical issue.

Q3. What is possible now for packet forwarding, using radio relays in unlicensed spectrum? (Reading through http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-10-174A1.pdf)

A3. In general you can use repeaters in ISM or White Spaces bands provided you adhere to power and antenna height requirements. This is technically moot.


Q & A 002

Venessa Miemis:

Q1. Could we use Shortwave, UHF, or VHF radio links for information backhaul?

A1. Shortwave and VHF are only really good for low-bitrate applications like messaging (things like BPSK on the lower-end and 1200BPS x.25 on the upper-end). Alternative Option: HF rigs (10m-band radios, etc) and messaging with a protocol called ALE.

Q2. Could we use tunnelling within the current infrastructure, as implemented in the FreeNet software?

A2. FreeNet creates more problems than solutions at this point. (documentation to support this opinion?) Alternative Option: CCN (www.ccnx.org) which is a new protocol being developed by Van Jacobsen at PARC to replace TCP/IP.

Q3. Can we hack diaspora* or similar software to create a killer app for a distributed network?

A3. Diaspora is already a distributed network, no?

Q4. How important is the idea of federation? Does federation lead directly back to centralization of control structures?

A4. Federation requires centralization at some level. Confederation maybe not.

Q5. Is EM spectrum a human right? Is network access? How can we bring such access to as many people as possible?

A5. Problem: there hasn't been a truly carrier-less access system commercialized yet. TCP/IP is biased towards carriers, and fails for certain topologies like mesh, grids, taurii. Potential Solution: CCN could be a solution, but once it hits the standards bodies it will be carrier-ized beyond recognition. Main Issue to be addressed: how to get around carrier and government monopolies on spectrum, infrastructure and core protocols

Q6. Is it a better scenario to have everyone running a copy of something locally like diaspora or StatusNet and just doing requests from computer to computer? Or, is a better architecture one in which we all share parts of our CPU, storage, bandwidth by way of packet passsing like a giant grid?

A6. My opinion is that we could do multiple architectures all from our machines and connections. There's no reason I can see that we cannot have both "personal web servers" and also offer our systems as a shared grid resource.

Q7. If fixing the spectrum economy were taken as a long-term goal, could there be an interim version of a distributed internet to get us by in the meantime? One that may fall short of a fully realized distributed internet but wouldn't require a structural change like that up front? (Or perhaps, it could be a first step toward that ultimate vision?)

A7. no answer here... but i can see a roadmap being created with multiple pathways forward, perhaps all of which can be pursued, and see which one(s) work best. i'm hearing options that assume a carrier infrastructure, and other options that suggest a carrier-less infrastructure. One potential solution for experimentation: Flybox