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Microsoft Research Cambridge Puts Visual Studio Beta on Fast Track
By Rob Knies
July 26, 2007 9:00 AM PT

With help from Microsoft Research Cambridge, Microsoft’s Developer Division will be offering an entirely new method for obtaining the latest beta of Visual Studio® 2008, Microsoft’s next-generation development tool for Windows Vista®, the 2007 Office System, and the Web.

Microsoft Secure Content Distribution (MSCD), based on the Avalanche peer-to-peer (P2P) research project from Microsoft Research Cambridge’s Incubation team, will be trialed beginning July 27 for distribution of Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2008, augmenting the traditional, Web-based distribution channel.

“I know that some of our developer customers use peer-to-peer tools to get some of our community technical previews,” says S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division. “We had a handful of customers try out an experimental system to see if something like MSCD would be valuable.

“There have always been significant challenges with P2P systems,” he says. “MSCD was built from the ground up to address these flaws.”

The Visual Studio trial is based on an entirely new, product-quality code base. Additions include an enhanced security model that protects the rights of publishers and ensures that consumers receive what they’re expecting when they download a file.

“This new technology is the culmination of almost two years of development by Microsoft Research Cambridge’s Incubation team,” says Mitch Goldberg, director of Incubation and Technology Transfer for the Cambridge lab. “It is as much as eight times faster than our original managed prototype, and it’s great that customers will have a chance to experience the benefits for themselves.”

To get the latest bits of Visual Studio 2008 via MSCD, download this tool. The trial will continue through Aug. 22.

“We hope this enables a better experience for customers and publishers,” says John L. Miller, an architect on Goldberg’s team. “We are sensitive to the rights of content owners and content publishers.

“It’s also important to note,” he adds, “that we’re so confident in our solution that we are using it as a method to distribute some of Microsoft’s latest software.”

The Avalanche research project is designed to determine how to enable a fast, cost-effective, and Internet-scalable file-distribution solution for purposes such as on-demand television, software patches, and software distribution. The approach uses desktop PCs to assist the distribution process, relieving traffic on congested servers and network links.

Current peer-assisted file-delivery systems use file-swarming techniques to obtain different pieces of a file from multiple nodes simultaneously. But as the number of receivers increases, it becomes harder to deliver all pieces to all nodes, resulting in slower downloads and stalled transfers.

Avalanche avoids such issues via network coding. Instead of distributing blocks of a file, peers produce linear combinations of blocks already obtained. Any peer can generate new, unique combinations from those it already has, and once a peer has enough independent combinations, it can decode and reconstruct the original file.

Thus, any piece uploaded by a peer can assist any other peer, making the system more robust. No peer becomes a bottleneck, and network bandwidth is utilized efficiently because the same information does not travel through a bottleneck multiple times.

Significant benefits can be expected from Avalanche-based technology. Somasegar, for one, is sold on the concept.

“Whenever we have a new release,” he says, “there is tremendous demand to get the bits as soon as they are available. While a solution like this won’t work for everyone, it will help some customers get Visual Studio pre-release bits faster and easier. That has a lot of value. Whatever we can do to help customers access our software—as long as it is safe and secure—is a win for both our customers and Microsoft.

“I am super-excited,” Somasegar adds, “to start using this reliable and trustworthy new approach as an additional channel for our pre-release distributions.”