Swimming against the peer-to-peer tide

By Martin LaMonica, InfoWorld |  Networking

When most IT managers hear "peer-to-peer computing," they think of Harry and Suzie in accounting bringing down the entire corporate network by downloading and swapping MP3 music files. In most cases, central IT stops this type of activity dead by clamping down on Web access. So much for the democratization of computing power.

But peer-to-peer -- broadly defined as individual machines communicating without the need for a centralized server -- has more potential than the brouhaha over Napster would lead you to believe. Venture capitalists are throwing money at businesses that look to improve real-time collaboration, to leverage unused CPU power, and even to automate machine-to-machine transactions in applications such as supply-chain management.

Even as hype around this Next Big Thing builds, IT managers are shaking their heads in disbelief. Our Page One story this week by Ed Scannell and Ted Smalley Bowen analyzes the impact that p-to-p technologies will have on the industry and business, highlighted last week by the introduction of Groove from Lotus Notes inventor and Groove Networks founder Ray Ozzie.

There are a number of reasons to fear p-to-p: End-users can bypass centralized security measures such as authorization as well as eat up still-scarce bandwidth. And with the ever-growing need for giant Web servers, IT continues to centralize processing and to build out around a server-centric model. Control is a powerful thing.

As they have been with other phenomena that started in the consumer world and made it into the corporation, end-users are an influential lobby. Adoption of instant messaging in InfoWorld's news department took all of two days once someone finally had the bright idea -- and it remains an indispensable tool.

Companies such as Groove Networks have understood the freedom and creativity that end-users can incite without the need for central IT or outside consultants. But will p-to-p be a popular revolt or a peaceful coexistence?

Do you see business applications for p-to-p?

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