Dell And Napster To Help University Networks Clogged With Music Downloads - InformationWeek

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Dell And Napster To Help University Networks Clogged With Music Downloads

Dell will offer a package of blade servers running Napster's digital music service to divert music-download traffic from a university's Internet access connection.

In a move to help colleges and universities cope with the deluge of digital downloads surging across their networks, Dell and Napster are teaming to provide a service that will let students check out the latest from Gwen Stefani or Black Eyed Peas without slowing network traffic to a crawl.

Dell plans this fall to begin offering higher-education customers a package of blade servers running Napster's digital music service that will create cache storage of student downloads and divert this traffic from a university's Internet access connection.

There's a huge student demand to download music files, says John Mullen, VP of Dell's higher-education business. "When lots of students are downloading simultaneously, it hurts network performance," he says.

Dell and Napster are looking to help schools alleviate digital traffic jams that could, ahem, interfere with more scholarly pursuits. Under the new service, once a student requests a song from Napster's site, that song is stored on the Dell servers for the next student who requests the same song. Eventually, students create a repository of the most popular music that can be accessed from the local servers without connecting to Napster for each song.

While those songs will still travel over a university's core network, this approach should reduce the amount of traffic traveling over a school's Internet connections and free up bandwidth for students and research assistants doing actual school work during their caffeine-fueled all-nighters.

The University of Washington is the first to sign up for the service and will implement 10 Dell PowerEdge 1855 blade servers to accommodate student demand. The school plans to have the Napster service up and running for the nearly 10,000 students living its residence halls by the time classes begin on Sept. 28. The university will provide the service free of charge to those students, although it is considering making it available to students living in off-campus housing as well.

The Dell configuration will serve as a set of caching servers that locally store the most requested music downloaded from Napster. It's unclear how the new service will affect last-mile traffic between the University of Washington's IT operations and the residence halls, although the Dell servers will certainly remove a load of traffic from the school's Internet backbone, says Oren Sreebny, director of client services and learning technologies. "File sharing has consumed a lot of the bandwidth that we provide to the residence halls," he says. "The main advantage for the students in the residence halls is that their requests will be serviced more quickly."

The university also signed up for a year of the Napster service through Dell as a way to stay on the cutting edge of digital distribution technology. "The main reason for using the service is not so much as a reaction to the problems happening [with file-sharing technologies], but as an opportunity to explore the next-generation of media distribution to one of the more significant portions of our user population our students," Sreebny says.

Universities such as Washington are hoping that offering a legal venue for digital downloads also will save their IT staff from having to clean viruses and spyware from student PCs. They're also looking to avoid the legal ramifications of students downloading content from illegal file-sharing sites.

For Dell, the deal also is an opportunity to promote the company's growing consumer-technology business. Dell sells three digital music players that are compatible with Napster To Go, Napster's portable subscription service.

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