Vendors and tools
|Product Name(s) (if applicable)
|Precept Software (Cisco)
When you need to send data to many receivers simultaneously, you have two options: repeated transmission and broadcast.
Repeated transmission may be acceptable if the cost is low enough and delivery can be spread out over time, as with junk mail or electronic mailing lists. Otherwise, a broadcast solution is required. With real-time multimedia, repeated delivery is feasible, but only at great expense to the sender, who must invest in large amounts of bandwidth.
Similarly, traditional broadcast channels have been very expensive if they cover significant numbers of recipients or large geographic areas. However, the Internet offers an alternative solution: IP multicast effectively turns the Internet into a broadcast channel, but one that anyone can send to without having to spend huge amounts of money on
transmitters and government licenses. It provides efficient, timely, and global many-to-many distribution of data, and as such may become the broadcast medium of choice in the future.
The Internet is a datagram network, meaning that anyone can send a packet to a destination without having to reestablish a path. Of course, the boxes along the way must have either precomputed a set of paths, or they must be relatively fast
at calculating one as needed, and typically, the former approach is used. However, the sending host need not be aware of or participate in the complex route calculation; nor does it need to take part in a complex signaling or call setup protocol. It simply addresses the packet to the right place, and sends it. This procedure may be a more complex procedure if the sending or receiving systems need more than the default performance that a path or network might offer, but it is the default model.
Adding multicast to the Internet does not alter the basic model. A sending host can still simply send, but now there is a new form of address, the multicast or host group address. Unlike unicast addresses,
hosts can dynamically subscribe to multicast addresses and by so doing cause multicast traffic to be delivered to them. Thus the IP multicast service model can be summarized: Senders send to a multicast address
Receivers express an interest in a multicast address Routers conspire to deliver traffic from the senders to the receivers
Sending multicast traffic is no different from sending unicast traffic except that the destination address is slightly special. However, to receive multicast traffic, an interested host must tell its local router that it is interested in a particular multicast group address; the host accomplishes this task by using the Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP).
Point-to-multipoint communication is nothing new. We are all used to the idea of broadcast TV and radio, where a shared medium (the radio frequency [RF] spectrum) is partitioned among users (transmitter or TV/ radio station owners).
It is a matter of regulation that there is typically only one unique sender of particular content on any given frequency, although other parts of the RF spectrum are given over to free use for multiparty communication (police radio, citizen band radio, and so on). The Internet multicast model  is very similar. The idea is to convert the mesh wide-area network that is the Internet (whether the public Internet, a private enterprise net, or intranet makes no
difference to the model), into a shared resource for senders to send to multiple participants, or groups.
To make this group communication work for large-scale systems in the sense of a large number of
recipients for a particular group, or in the sense of a large number of senders to a large number of recipients, or in the sense of a large number of different groups it is necessary, both for senders and for the routing functions to support delivery, to have a system that can be largely independent of the particular recipients at any one time. In other words, just as a TV or radio station does not know who is listening when, an Internet multicast sender does not know who might receive packets it sends. If this scenario sends out alarm bells about security, it shouldn't. A unicast sender has no assurance about who receives its packets either. Assurances about disclosure (privacy) and
authenticity of sender/recipient are largely separate matters from simple packet delivery models. Security is a topic of much research and the
focus for the recently formed Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) research group, Secure Multicast Group (SMuG).