Collaborative technology beginning to find groove

Last week, Groove Networks in Beverly, Mass., released the first version of its collaborative peer-to-peer application, Groove 1.0.

Despite the fact that many IT managers and pundits alike are skeptical about the usefulness of peer-to-peer technologies, a few companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Raytheon Corp. have recently decided to take the plunge.

Already, U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline has snapped up 10,000 seats for its worldwide employees. Meanwhile, Raytheon Co. in Lexington, Mass., Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill., and Syntek Technologies in Arlington, Va., have also signed agreements for limited deployments of the new collaborative tool.

"I think the needle is tilting toward the overhype cycle right now in terms of Groove," said John Pescatore, an analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Conn. However, Pescatore said that in the long run, he believes Groove will likely prove useful enough to business users to be profitable.

The cost of being Groovy

Enterprise licensing: $49 per user

Groove Enterprise Network Services: $8 per user per month (volume pricing available).

The Groove Preview Edition, a subset of the full Groove product, is free at www.groove.net

Pricing for individual purchase of Groove software and services will be announced later this year.

Groove uses a peer-to-peer model to initiate and maintain workspaces, where users exchange text with instant messenger (IM) software, applications and voice and video in real time through various panes within one frame or skin.

The data is stored on each user's hard drive. Off-line users can download updated information from ongoing Groove sessions when they log on.

Lingering skepticism

One manager of messaging systems at a major US bank with 65,000 users said he doubts that his company would deploy Groove.

"Where's the backup?" he asked. "I see that it's kind of a toy that people will use individually." He acknowledged, however, that that was how IM caught on at the company. Lotus Sametime IM software is now an indispensible tool at the bank, he said.

That same type of adoption may be the key to Groove's success, if Raytheon's selection is any indication.

"We had several people sign up for the [free] preview copy, and they have indicated that this is a pretty cool technology," said Saul Fisher, director of strategic initiatives at Raytheon. "Right now, all we're doing is a pilot. We're testing the product to see if it meets the functionality claims it makes and if it meets the security requirements so we could use it potentially inside and outside [the firewall]."

GlaxoSmithKline is also testing Groove to see how it works in real, collaborative situations.

Like Fisher, Philip Connolly, head of IT communications at GlaxoSmithKline, is drawn to Groove's ability to link people in disparate geographical locations without having to get the IT department involved. "Too many of us are spending too much time on airplanes," Connolly said. He added that he hopes Groove will help reduce the company's travel expenses. "It seems to connect people to people, whereas Notes seems to connect people to documents," he said.

Both Raytheon and GlaxoSmithKline are fairly devout Notes shops. Connolly and Fisher agreed, however, that Groove has an edge over the collaborative Lotus products Sametime and QuickPlace when it comes to setting up quick workgroups.

"Groove has the potential to be easier to set up," Fisher said. "If it's that easy to use, kind of like IM, maybe it's something that we should consider."

Groove attempts to position itself as corporate P2P standard bearer

Peer-to-peer is being touted as the hot new technology. Whereas Napster in Redwood City, Calif., has been something of a bastard child, Groove is setting itself up as the standard-bearer, particularly for corporate use. To be viable, however, it's adopting some IT mainstays, like a data repository, to lure corporate users.

Network Services for Groove 1.0, for example, is designed to allow IT managers to centrally control the deployment and behavioral characteristics of widely dispersed Groove software, according to a press release issued with the launch of the software last week. Some of those centralized tools include the deployment and management of client software and licenses, the dissemination of component and tool security policies, the dissemination of user identities to be consistent with a corporate directory, the dissemination of software version upgrade policies and the aggregation of software usage, behavior and fault information.

Groove spokesman Richard Eckel said the software is also working toward storing data on central servers. As a partner in Microsoft's .Net program, for example, Groove would access line-of-business software. The changes users make while in a Groove session would then be stored on a central server.

In fact, little of the technology now being sold as peer-to-peer is exclusively run from desktop to desktop, which is the simplest peer-to-peer model, according to Gartner analyst John Pescatore.

"There's only really one pure peer-to-peer," he said, "Napster has central directory, as does IM." Meanwhile, Gnutella, unlike Napster, works without a central directory.

"Today, the pain of using [peer-to-peer applications] outweighs the gain," Pescatore said. "It's not very efficient from a network point of view. It requires companies to think through architectural issues, putting technology in place for discovery capabilities. Groove's putting the things in place to do that sort of thing -- reliable delivery, security, naming services [user authentication]."

"Right now, to use peer-to-peer to do that in small, ad hoc groups, you sort of have to be a rocket scientist," Pescatore said, adding that that's why many developers are building on a hybrid model like server-to-server.

This story, "Collaborative technology beginning to find groove" was originally published by Computerworld.

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