P2P is short for
peer-to-peer computing, stemming ostensibly from
peer-to-peer networking, however P2P
is not peer-to-peer networking in the classic sense of the term. Typically P2P
uses computers located across the country and uses the Internet to connect the
Beyond this, the "standards" get fuzzy and the definition becomes nebulous at
best. This is because there are at least three distinct manifestations of
peer-to-peer computing, and all three have their own functionality: instant
file sharing tools, and distributed computing networks.
Instant Messaging and Beyond
In this category are collaborative tools that allow you to connect directly to
another person to
chat, send files, use a whiteboard, etc. What makes these tools
"peer-to-peer" ones, and what differentiates them from others such as Microsoft
Netmeeting, Webex, and even ICQ, is that they don't rely on a central server
after the initial connection is made. There is nothing to monitor your traffic
or keep track of accounts.
One example of such a tool is Groove, from
Groove Networks. It's similar to Microsoft Netmeeting, but it allows you to
do quite a bit more, such as have threaded discussions and voice conversations.
In fact, one of my only problems with the software is that it is just too
complex! But it is free and relatively easy to use. All you need to do is set up
an account, connect to the Internet, and invite someone to your "shared space."
These are content sharing tools like the once popular Napster or
Gnutella. There are
tons of them out now, and there are even more companies developing products
that make file sharing easier. The goal is to allow users to share files from
local machines without being required to set up and monitor an
Most operate using the Gnutella network. The Open Source Gnutella network has
thrived in the MP3, video, and pirated software hey-day of the past few years.
Gnutella servers are easy to set up and there are dozens of Gnutella clients on
the market today.
Most of these programs are poor choices in a business environment, with problems
such as increased virus activity, complete lack of security, and illegal
file-sharing. You probably don't want to encourage the use of Gnutella or
Recent developments you should want to keep track of are things like
PeerFTP, developed by Acute Websight
(oh, how I hate puns). This program allows you to identify the files and folders
you want to share, establish a password, and send e-mail invitations to
coworkers. They can then access your files via a standard Web browser.
Another offering by SoftKnot is
IFS2. This product
is much more robust and is geared to businesses that need to collaborate on
documents. However, it allows you to integrate your file-sharing and document
collaboration with your intranet. This product is a bit steep for NPOs at $300
for a five-user license.
Most of our computers spend 70-90 percent of their
processor time doing absolutely nothing. Under the distributed computing P2P
model, spare processing time from participating computers is aggregated in order
to execute a program. The beauty of this model is that it is not necessary to
invest in massive servers or supercomputers to process large amounts of
information, since the work is being done by various client computers instead.
It is important to understand that the organizations that are running
distributed computing programs aren't stealing your computer; they are merely
using your computer's spare resources. Most of them have ways to tell the
program to only start if the computer has been idle for 10 minutes, or only run
when the screen saver is on.
The best know example of distributed computing is
SETI At Home. The SETI project
analyzes signals from space for patterns that might be extraterrestrial life.
Since there is a huge amount of data to sift through, the researchers set up a
system that allows users to download an application that lets their computer
analyze some of this data and then send the results back to SETI.
Another example that might be of interest to NPOs is
Fight AIDS At Home. Researchers at
this organization are using donated computing power to test the efficiency of
various drugs designed to fight AIDS.
Several companies are adopting this model for running intense applications such
as 3D rendering and genetic analysis.
GreenTea has designed a system that allows you to hook your computer up to a
distributed network and share resources on all the computers in the network.
This system is free and looks to have a huge impact on distributed computing.
The main thing to remember about the P2P movement is that it is surrounded by a
tremendous amount of hype. Everything is the "next killer app," and every
company is touted as "groundbreaking" and "innovating." However, the major
players are also getting involved. Sun has recently announced it P2P effort,
JXTA. Microsoft is working on its own P2P
product, and Intel is helping to define security in the field. These companies
are willing to spend their money to make sure that the technology develops, so
For more information or to keep abreast of new developments, check out the
Yahoo's peer-to-peer section
peer-to-peer pages (Mostly intermediate to advanced information)
O'Reilly's peer-to-peer page (Careful, you
could get sucked in!)