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Peer-to-peer Computing is Good Business
Leave it to a teenager to change the world of computing. The hobby project
that became Napster sparked a revolution in computing that has made "Peer-to-
Peer" the buzzword of the new Millennium. As it turns out, the buzz goes well
beyond kids sharing music. Now businesses are looking for opportunities to
take advantage of this latest industry trend.
Peer-to-peer applications have wide-ranging business applications beyond the
MP3-sharing utility that made it a household name. In fact, peer-to-peer is at
the center of the next computing revolution and will fundamentally change the
face of the Internet.
According to Cheryl Currid, president of Currid & Company, an emerging
technology research firm, every IT manager should explore peer-to-peer
computing. At last fall's Intel Developer Forum, Currid proclaimed every
organization has a need for the benefits of peer-to-peer technology.
In the enterprise, peer-to-peer computing offers companies a cost-efficient
way of sharing computing resources, improving network performance, and
increasing overall productivity. Its uses are varied, including everything
from collaboration and file sharing, to distributed computing and edge
services. Unlocking the power of peer-to-peer computing can help grow your
company's bottom line by reducing infrastructure costs and improving employee
What is peer-to-peer? Peer-to-peer computing isn't exactly new. As many as 30
years ago, companies were working on architectures that would now be labeled
peer-to-peer. But today, several factors have lit a fire under the
peer-to-peer movement: inexpensive computing power, bandwidth, and storage.
Put simply, peer-to-peer computing is the sharing of computer resources and
services by direct exchange between systems. These resources and services
include the exchange of information, processing cycles, cache storage, and
disk storage for files. Peer-to-peer computing takes advantage of existing
desktop computing power and networking connectivity, allowing economical
clients to leverage their collective power to benefit the entire enterprise.
In a peer-to-peer architecture, computers that have traditionally been used
solely as clients communicate directly among themselves and can act as both
clients and servers, assuming whatever role is most efficient for the network.
This reduces the load on servers and allows them to perform specialized
services (such as mail-list generation, billing, etc.) more effectively. At
the same time, peer-to-peer computing can reduce the need for IT organizations
to grow parts of its infrastructure in order to support certain services, such
as backup storage.
Ultimately, peer-to-peer technology is yet another tool for bringing
innovative solutions to complex network dilemmas.
"Peer-to-peer is really the opportunity to use the Internet for its real,
underlying architecture—an ad hoc, resilient, worldwide network of resources,
all being able to directly communicate and interact with each other," says Pat
Gelsinger, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Intel(TM) Architecture
Group. "To a great degree, we're restoring the Internet to what it was built
Peer-to-Peer at Work In the enterprise, peer-to-peer is about more than just
the universal file-sharing model popularized by Napster. Business applications
for peer-to-peer computing fall into a handful of scenarios.
Collaboration. Peer-to-peer computing empowers individuals and teams to create
and administer real-time and off-line collaboration areas in a variety of
ways, whether administered, unadministered, across the Internet, or behind the
firewall. Peer-to-peer collaboration tools also mean that teams have access to
the freshest data.
Collaboration increases productivity by decreasing the time for multiple
reviews by project participants and allows teams in different geographic areas
to work together. As with file sharing, it can decrease network traffic by
eliminating e-mail and decreases server storage needs by storing the project
Edge services. It's exactly what you think: Akamai for the enterprise.
Peer-to-peer computing can help businesses deliver services and capabilities
more efficiently across diverse geographic boundaries. In essence, edge
services move data closer to the point at which it is actually consumed acting
as a network caching mechanism. For example, a company with sites in multiple
continents needs to provide the same standard training across multiple
continents using the Web. Instead of streaming the database for the training
session on one central server located at the main site, the company can store
the video on local clients, which act essentially as local database servers.
This speeds up the session because the streaming happens over the local LAN
instead of the WAN. It also utilizes existing storage space, thereby saving
money by eliminating the need for local storage on servers.
Distributed computing and resources. Peer-to-peer computing can help
businesses with large-scale computer processing needs. Using a network of
computers, peer-to-peer technology can use idle CPU MIPS and disk space,
allowing businesses to distribute large computational jobs across multiple
computers. In addition, results can be shared directly between participating
The combined power of previously untapped computational resources can easily
surpass the normal available power of an enterprise system without distributed
computing. The results are faster completion times and lower cost because the
technology takes advantage of power available on client systems. Intelligent
agents. Peer-to-peer computing also allows computing networks to dynamically
work together using intelligent agents. Agents reside on peer computers and
communicate various kinds of information back and forth. Agents may also
initiate tasks on behalf of other peer systems. For instance, Intelligent
agents can be used to prioritize tasks on a network, change traffic flow,
search for files locally or determine anomalous behavior and stop it before it
effects the network, such as a virus.
Intel and Peer-to-Peer Intel believes peer-to-peer computing and all its
potential applications represent a shift in how the PC infrastructure will be
used. Peer-to-peer technology is in a position to revolutionize computing
environments. Recognizing that the basic building block—clients PCs, network
infrastructure, and the enabling servers—remain the same; Intel is working
with the computer industry to create solutions that will unlock the potential
of peer-to-peer computing. Processors such as the Intel&174; Pentium(TM) 4
processor mean more power for clients to handle still unimagined peer-to-peer
tasks and shoulder more of the enterprise workload.
Although peer-to-peer computing will revolutionize the way businesses use and
interact with the network, some work has yet to be completed. Standards and
manageability will be a key part of peer-to-peer acceptance. Intel is working
with independent software vendors on peer-to-peer solutions, while at the same
time contributing to the efforts of the Peer-to-Peer Working Group, an
industry consortium devoted to the advancement of infrastructure standards for
peer-to- peer computing.
Providing Peer-to-Peer Solutions Peer-to-peer solutions are being offered
today by many solutions providers, including Groove Networks, Entropia,
Distributed Science, McAfee AsAP, and Consilient.
Collaboration: Groove is Internet communications software that allows people
to make direct connections for real-time interaction. It exploits peer-to-peer
computing for collaboration, enabling instant messaging, live voice, file
sharing, free-form drawing, and other ways of working together.
Edge Services: At McAfee AsAP, they've introduced a new peer-to-peer
technology called Rumor*, which permits users to share anti-virus and firewall
configuration updates with one another. McAfee AsAP's VirusScan* ASaP and PC
FireWall* ASaP agents work through proxy servers and firewalls where the Rumor
technology broadcasts configuration updates throughout the network.
Distributed Resource Computing: Entropia and Distributed Science are two
companies that have assembled global computing grids with thousands of
Internet PCs around the world. Today, these networks are being used to test
web site Quality of Service levels, from the end-users perspective. Response
times are tracked for sample transactions that are launched from heterogeneous
PCs, ISPs, and geographical locations.
Intelligent Agents: Consilient allows businesses to create intelligent agents
that carry out business processes. The intelligent agents advance a business
process by moving control and data directly between peer clients via
personalized user interfaces. The technology can be used to automate business
processes like procurement or other collaborative tasks.
These are just a few examples of peer-to-peer computing at work. Businesses
that take advantage of such technologies stand to benefit from more efficient
use of human and IT resources.
The world is still in the early stages of the peer-to-peer revolution. Over
the coming months, Intel will deliver the latest updates on standards,
articles describing new solutions, and case studies of companies successfully
using peer-to-peer technology for a competitive advantage. Register for the
Intel Business Computing newsletter to receive updates on this and other
emerging technologies. We also encourage you to visit the sites of the
companies referenced in this article for more information about peer-to-peer
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