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Such ideas may seem radical. Then again, just a decade ago, so did e-commerce. The question now is which big idea will evolve into the Google or Amazon.com of the new, smarter Internet. By charter, PlanetLab can’t be used for profit-making enterprises, but businesses may soon spring from the platform it provides. “We want it to be a place where you leave services running long-term-which brings us much closer to the point where someone commercial might want to adopt it or replicate it for profit,” Peterson says. That could happen if the experiments running now, along with the methods being developed to keep the network operating smoothly, provide a reliable model for future intelligent networks. “We don’t know where that next big idea is going to come from,” says Peterson. “Our goal is just to provide the playing field.”

PlanetLab’s early industry sponsors, such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, may be among the first to jump in. HP Labs in Palo Alto, CA, for example, installed 30 PlanetLab nodes in June and plans to use the network to road-test technologies that could soon become products. One example: software developed by researcher Susie Wee that uses a CoDeeN-like distribution network to deliver high-resolution streaming video to mobile devices. The goal is to avoid wasting bandwidth, and Wee’s software would do just that by streaming, say, video of a major-league baseball game to a single local node, then splitting the data into separate streams optimized for the screen resolutions of different viewers’ devices-whether desktop PCs, wireless laptops, PDAs, or cell phones. HP or its licensees could bring such a service to market within two years, Wee says. Projects like this one, says Rick McGeer, HP Labs’ scientific liaison to a number of university efforts, means that PlanetLab is “not only a great experimental test bed, it’s a place where you can see the demonstrable value of services you don’t get on today’s Internet.”

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