Peer-to-peer computing

The latest three-letter acronym to spike the needle on the hype meter is P2P-that is, peer-to-peer computing. Broadly defined, P2P describes a way of connecting computers without intermediary servers and databases. The computers share processing power and memory, and users interact directly. Online music-sharing service Napster is the most well-known example of P2P. Using Napster Inc., Kelli in Austin can search for and download a Frank Zappa CD directly on to her PC from Jack's PC in Nashville. The music does not have to go through any intermediate servers, unlike, say, a transaction on a typical website.

But P2P isn't just for folks who want free tunes. Other uses of P2P-such as instant messaging, voice chatting and working on shared documents-have more relevance to the business world. Gartner Group Inc. says P2P will "radically change business models." Vendors such as IBM Corp., Intel Corp. and Lotus Development Corp. are rushing to build P2P applications. But amid all this activity there are still a lot of questions to be answered about what exactly P2P is.

To follow the debate and see how enterprises are solving problems with P2P tools, check out and bookmark the following websites-and be sure to return every month or so. You're guaranteed to see new content appear as more vendors and enterprises jump on the P2P bandwagon. This is the website for the Peer-to-Peer Working Group, a consortium that focuses on developing P2Pinfrastructure standards. As of this writing, 11 companies have joined the group, including J.D. Edwards & Co. and Intel, and 18 companies had endorsed it, including Groove Networks Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM.

For all the impressiveness of the companies that have signed on to this group, the site itself is disappointingly skimpy on content, posting only a handful of presentation slide shows. Two sets of slides authored by Bob Knighten, Intel's "peer-to-peer evangelist," introduce the Peer-to-Peer Working Group and spell out the basic tenets of P2P. Other slides provide overviews of related technologies. There are also a few links to other webpages on P2P.

Some of the site's meatiest content comes from its registration-based e-mail discussions. In these threads, participants tackle speculative topics, such as the future of P2P, as well as more hands-on ones, such as which vendors offer what P2P products, or why security is such a huge concern. This guide is one of the most comprehensive P2P sites out there. It contains a number of high-level overviews and FAQs from publications such as Red Herring. P2P advocates and writers such as Dave Winer of UserLand Software also contribute articles. You'll find definitions of related technical terms and concepts, descriptions of key elements in P2P systems, lists of P2P vendors and the usual hairsplitting over the basic parameters of P2P. The guide's author, Bradley Mitchell, updates this site on a regular basis, so if you're looking for a recent magazine article on P2P, you're bound to find it here. This site classifies itself as a "P2P Devcenter," and is part of the O'Reilly Network (a site that bills itself as a hub of technical information for software developers). It focuses less on big-picture issues (visit the guide for that) and more on specific technologies, vendors and people who support the P2P movement and develop its technologies. Most content is homegrown, except for the few articles under the heading "In the P2P Digest," which are culled from techie sources like Web Techniques and Linux Today.

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