January 16, 2001, 2:29 PM — The hot button is Napster, MP3, and the media industry's outright panic about what to do when people access copyrighted material for free. But behind the hubbub is peer-to-peer computing, a technology that is spawning new business models for the fleet of foot -- and at the same time is posing a threat for those on the sidelines.
The most optimistic advocates claim a groundswell is building around this next wave of computing, similar to when Mosaic hit the Net and the Web turned the business world upside down. This new revolution started in college dorms, but is making its way to the top of the IT industry. Intel is behind a working group with other IT industry heavies, such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, to apply peer-to-peer computing to business.
Intel's goal of maximizing the unused cycles of PCs is obvious: Businesses built around a peer-to-peer network will drive the need for more powerful processors and PCs.
Intel and other platform providers' interest notwithstanding, it's clear that the possibilities are broad: Companies can reduce downtime with better load balancing, engineers can harness remote workstations, or consumers can search the Web using multiple PCs.
But the first killer app for peer-to-peer seems to be content distribution. Our Page One story by Bob Trott and Jennifer Jones details the ways in which companies are trying to cash in on the hype, offering payment systems for music-swapping networks or systems for people to protect their intellectual capital online.
The entertainment industry is acting defensively, merely reacting to what consumers are doing. But forward-looking companies can see that content, or other intellectual property, can either be bilked or leveraged on peer-to-peer networks, depending on the business model.
Businesses that can create a community around peer-to-peer networks or find ways to leverage the raw computing power on corporate or public networks may be building the Web's greatest offshoot.
Is peer-to-peer the next big thing?