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Pando Further Eases Big File Distribution

The file-distribution system run by Pando has opened itself up to developers and podcasters (for more information about Pando and related services, see “Secure Transfer Using Civil Netizen and Pando,” 2006-08-21). Instead of managing your own bandwidth and dealing with your service provider’s limits or their overage charges on busy months, you can now employ Pando’s combination of centralized and distributed downloading at no cost at all for files of up to 1 GB in size. Larger files can be distributed with Pando’s paid levels of service.

With Pando, you upload an individual file or set of files (a “package”) via a free application that incorporates advertising into its display. When you upload the package, you can provide email notification, where up to 10 people per transmission (for free publisher accounts) initially receive a Pando link to download the package or file. You can also receive a special link that you can send separately and some HTML to post on a Web site for download. In essence, Pando’s client application works like a combination of an email application and a file manager. It’s available for Mac OS X 10.3.9 and later, along with Windows 2000 SP4, XP, and Vista.

The copy of Pando running on your computer is also a “peer,” or a potential uploading server, in a peer-to-peer network that Pando uses to connect anyone who has downloaded or wants to download the package in question. For files you want to distribute as broadly as possible – like a podcast, software download, or white paper PDF – the more people running Pando with a downloaded copy of that item, the greater the distribution network.

This method is what has driven the popularity of BitTorrent, but the addition of central servers to prime the pump and ensure a minimum level of bandwidth gives Pando some advantages. Pando requires accounts, and with a premium subscription as a publisher, you can even control who can download and use files.

With the addition of a developer site and associated toolkits and recipes for distributing files, you can bypass using the Pando program to upload files as a publisher. Anyone wanting to download files must first install Pando, but if you have sufficiently compelling content or if Pando really takes off – especially if they can get their software bundled by computer makers – that will be no bar. For anyone whose audience has no interest in using a separate application to retrieve files, Pando isn’t yet a solution. But as a measure of their current popularity, Pando says they push 60 terabytes of downloads a day across their network.

For instance, you can convert your existing podcast RSS feed to work via Pando, and any audio or video enclosures are automatically retrieved by Pando and converted into retrievable packages. Currently, you need to request that Pando (the company) enable this option for your feed. But you can also use the Pando program to create URLs for uploaded files that you can embed in a Web page and that work in RSS feeds. A recent upgrade to the Pando application lets the program subscribe to Pando-compatible RSS feeds; for instance, they have a sample high-definition video channel that lets you download specific videos directly within Pando from that channel.

A software developer could offload some of the distribution burden for new files by using Pando’s application programming interface (API), the programmer’s toolkit, to create a package for files uploaded to the developer’s Web site. Adding peers increases the efficiency of peer-to-peer networks; thus, a popular new application or update would have an extremely efficient Pando profile.

Pando uses advertising to defray the costs of its free service. The company also recently added three tiers of paid service; if you pay, you can transfer larger files to larger initial distribution lists, and your files can remain on Pando’s central servers for longer periods of time. Right now, the free service allows packages of up to 1 GB each to be transferred, and it keeps the files active on Pando’s servers for either 7 days (for Pando-emailed or IM-distributed files) and 30 days (for Web posted files) after the most recent download or message forward through their system.

All three higher level services – Plus, Pro, and Publisher – allow password protection of packages, weekday 24-hour technical support, and no advertising. They also let you send messages from within Pando to 100 people at a time rather than 10.

The Plus ($5 per month) and Pro ($20 per month) service increase maximum package sizes to 3 GB and 5 GB, respectively, and both allow Pando-distributed and IM-distributed packages to remain for 30 days without any downloads or forwards, rather than 7. The Publisher package allows packages up to 50 GB, and unlimited persistence on Pando’s servers.

Pando versus Other Services — Let’s compare these offerings with other typical bandwidth charges. Amazon’s Simple Storage System (S3) costs 20 cents per GB transferred, plus 15 cents per GB stored each month. Many co-location firms charge $1 to $2 per GB transferred with some monthly included amount. And some ISPs offer truly insane transfer amounts, notably DreamHost, which includes 2 TB per month in its $10 per month accounts.

At those prices, delivering, say, 10,000 one-megabyte files each month, or 10 GB of data, costs me nothing with Pando, $10 with DreamHost, $0 to $10 with a co-location host (if I’m under or over my allotment, respectively), and $2 with Amazon. Scale that up to 1 TB a month of smaller-than-1 GB packages, and it’s free with Pando, $10 with DreamHost (unless they decide my usage is abusive), at least $800 and as much as $1,800 with a co-location host (assuming 100 GB to 200 GB of included usage), and $200 with Amazon (plus a few dollars for storage).

I’m particularly interested in this subject because of the potential risk for average people as an increasing number of us host audio, video, and other huge files, and thus face the peril of popularity. Nearly four years ago, I ran into just this problem when I tried to give away an electronic version of “Real World Adobe GoLive,” a book I co-authored with Jeff Carlson (for the full story see “Publish (Electronically) and Perish?” 2003-03-24 and “The Boy Who Cried Bandwidth,” 2003-04-07). I wrote about how it all worked out in the end in the New York
, but I could have been on the hook for up to $15,000. (In that case, an older method of sustained transfers had ridiculous tiered levels of fees: one toe over the line, and whammo!)

Most network service providers charge you for the bandwidth you use over your monthly allotment; these companies tend to run co-location facilities that house hundreds or thousands of servers. Many Internet service providers, along with Apple and its .Mac service, cut you off when you hit your limit; ISPs tend to provide bandwidth to residential and business customers, and they try to preserve bandwidth rather than serve hosting customers. It’s annoying to be taken offline, but at least you know that you’re just out of luck, but not out of pocket, when you hit the limit.

I like the notion that Pando is bearing some of the risk for popularity, but balancing that with fees for higher levels of use and support. I also like the notion that bandwidth is such a commodity that Pando can use advertising to offset the cost of most file delivery. Pando needs to hit a mass audience to make the mental cost of downloading its application approach zero – or get pre-installed deals with computer makers – but this latest addition makes it increasingly likely that “Pando me that file” could become a common phrase.

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