Peer-to-peer has great potential for business

Peer-to-peer has great potential for business

Made famous by Napster, peer-to-peer (P2P) technology is just approaching the top of the hype-cycle. After passing through the inevitable subsequent phase of disillusionment, P2P has great potential in the business environment, according to analyst firm Gartner Group.

For instance, P2P could make data centres obsolete and thus save companies a significant amount of money, said Gartner senior analyst Nikos Drakos at the Gartner Europe Spring Symposium/ITxpo 2001. Drakos expects the first P2P business applications to come out around 2004.

"In the ideal world, there will be no more expensive servers in data centres. But in reality, we will see different systems for various applications. Some [applications] will still need central billing or a repository. Companies will have to decide what applications and data are good to keep central and what to distribute," said Drakos.

In simple terms, P2P describes a model of computing in which computers talk to each other over the Net in order to share information and computing resources. Applications include file sharing, utilising idle processing power to perform complex computations, or tapping unused storage in PCs and servers to house large databases.

"P2P architecture will cause radical rethinking of the way we build computation, communication and collaboration systems. It gives us new freedom and an empty data centre," Drakos told an audience of IT managers who came to find out if P2P is reality or hype.

The nascent computing model has several benefits, Drakos said. Bottlenecks, like congested data centres or routes to the data centres, can be removed by placing the data on user computers. Gaining "the most power for the least amount of dollars" is possible by leveraging the combined processing power of the connected machines. Scalability becomes endless, as system resources grow organically.

However, Drakos acknowledged, there are significant challenges to be overcome before the P2P "utopia" can be reached. "The platform needs to have enterprise qualities added to it," he said.

Security is the foremost hurdle. Specifically, issues such as authenticating a user on a P2P platform and dealing with the "inherent P2P problem" of host security caused by the lack of centralized control when data and processing power are distributed among many computers. This decentralisation also adds to the complexity of managing the network and keeping it stable.

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