Democratizing Content Distribution
Candidate: Michael J. Freedman
Advisor: David Mazieres


In order to reach their large audiences, today's Internet publishers primarily use content distribution networks (CDNs) to deliver content. Yet the architectures of the prevalent commercial systems are tightly bound to centralized control, static deployments, and trusted infrastructure, inherently limiting their scope and scale to ensure cost recovery.

To move beyond such shortcomings, this thesis contributes a number of techniques that realize cooperative content distribution. By federating large numbers of unreliable or untrusted hosts, we can satisfy the demand for content by leveraging all available resources. We propose novel algorithms and architectures for three central mechanisms of CDNs: content discovery (where are nearby copies of the client's desired resource?), server selection (which node should a client use?), and secure content transmission (how should a client download content efficiently and securely from its multiple potential sources?).

These mechanisms have been implemented, deployed, and tested in production systems that have provided open content distribution services for more than three years. Every day, these systems answer tens of millions of client requests, serving terabytes of data to more than a million people.

This thesis presents five systems related to content distribution. First, Coral provides a distributed key-value index that enables content lookups to occur efficiently and returns references to nearby cached objects whenever possible, while still preventing any load imbalances from forming. Second, CoralCDN demonstrates how to construct a self-organizing CDN for web content out of unreliable nodes, providing robust behavior in the face of failures. Third, OASIS provides a general-purpose, flexible anycast infrastructure, with which clients can locate nearby or unloaded instances of participating distributed systems. Fourth, as a more clean-slate design that can leverage untrusted participants, Shark offers a distributed file system that supports secure block-based file discovery and distribution. Finally, our authentication code protocol enables the integrity verification of large files on-the-fly when using erasure codes for efficient data dissemination.

Taken together, this thesis provides a novel set of tools for building highly-scalable, efficient, and secure content distribution systems. By enabling the automated replication of data based on its popularity, we can make desired content available and accessible to everybody. And in effect, democratize content distribution.