Consistent hashing is one of those ideas that really puts the science in computer science and reminds us why all those really smart people spend years slaving over algorithms. Consistent hashing is "a scheme that provides hash table functionality in a way that the addition or removal of one slot does not significantly change the mapping of keys to slots" and was originally a way of distributing requests among a changing population of web servers. My first reaction to the idea was "wow, that's really smart" and I sadly realized I would never come up with something so elegant. I then immediately saw applications for it everywhere. And consistent hashing is used everywhere: distributed hash tables, overlay networks, P2P, IM, caching, and CDNs. Here's the abstract from the original paper and after the abstract are some links to a few very good articles with accessible explanations of consistent hashing and its applications in the real world.