While Napster, Gnutella, and the thorny issue of intellectual property rights have thrust P2P (peer-to-peer) computing into the spotlight, the IT enterprise is now looking to tame the computing model for its own purposes.
In a week's time, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and others will host the first meeting of the Peer-to-Peer Working Group in the hope of ironing out P2P standards so that the technology can be used in a business-to-business setting without privacy or security fears.
According to officials involved in the standards push, companies are eyeing P2P technology as a way to offer an efficient and inexpensive way to do business, particularly of the business-to-consumer and business-to-business variety.
"There are some tasks that absolutely must be done by big servers in the centre of the wheel, but there are other things like virus protection that can be run by using the idle computing cycles that exist in a large network," said Howard High, communications manager at Intel.
Indeed, High said, the savings in the P2P model can be dramatic. Intel engineers have used internal P2P technology Netbatch in chip design and have saved Intel $US500 million over a decade, High said.
Of course, the chip giant has a distinct interest in promoting P2P, which ideally could leverage computer downtime when more computing capacity is available.
"P2P information-sharing technology will radically change business models and enterprise technology management approaches since it addresses an exponentially growing demand for more and faster information," Gartner analyst John Pescatore said in a recent report.
One company hoping to take advantage of P2P's resurgence is NextPage, which last week began shipping NXT 3.0, the latest version of its software that allows file servers to communicate throughout an enterprise. The software is aimed at businesses that need immediate access to information that is spread across the world.
"We are focused very much on being able to create access on a B2B framework," said Darren Lee, NextPage's strategy and product marketing vice president. "We're doing distributed access to corporate information content, from e-mail to documents to slides. All of these things can be distributed through our NXT 3.0 platform."
Tacit Knowledge Systems is also looking to take its P2P solution to the B2B stage.
The company's KnowledgeMail scours outbound e-mail and "deconstructs" the language in the e-mail, finding data and terms to generate the profile. The idea is to let enterprise IT shops build profiles, which are published on corporate intranets only and, at the direction of the employee for which the profile was generated, to hook up employees with common skillsets to work on corporate teams, said David Gilmour, president and CEO of Tacit.
Gilmour predicted that such P2P knowledge-sharing solutions will become more popular as B2B relationships become centred on the internal expertise of each company.
"Wouldn't it be nice to expose just enough of your own knowledge to your partners and have matches that allow you to talk to people on the same subjects that are of interest to you?" Gilmour asked.
- Jennifer Jones contributed to this article.