P-to-P prepares for the enterprise

The model for peer-to-peer computing received a sizable boost last week as established companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc. worked side-by-side with startups to create an industry foothold for the emerging architecture.

Sun captured the spotlight at the O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer Conference in San Francisco with news that it is developing a software platform for p-to-p computing designed to provide a base for writing distributed applications. Dubbed Juxtapose, the platform will be an addition to Sun's family of Web-based programming languages, which includes Jini and Java.

Juxtapose provides an initial code layer that will allow other vendors to build p-to-p applications that interoperate, Bill Joy, Sun's chief scientist, said at the show.

According to one analyst, p-to-p may provide a means for garnering more power from Sun's hardware.

"Many people feel that peer-to-peer is the next big frontier for Sun," said Rob Enderle, vice president at Giga Information Group. "Their machines have excess capability that isn't used for much of the time. If you can tap that, people believe you can get more out of the equipment. As a result, it looks like free money to a potential customer."

Another big name vendor, Novell, also had a presence at the show.

Eric Schmidt, CEO and chairman of the company, took part in a panel discussion exploring p-to-p's value in the enterprise. Schmidt said Novell is examining the technology.

"You need a consumer adoption strategy," Schmidt said. "If you have a killer app, with no adoption strategy, you won't get there."

"[P-to-p] is in the early stages where you need to make sure the technology works and [know] what people will use it for," Schmidt added in an interview.

Microsoft Corp. tested the waters at the show with a booth and by participating in a conference panel discussion.

Dave Stutz, software architect at Microsoft, expressed interest in the value of p-to-p infrastructure as a window on society.

"P-to-p is a successful phenomenon because it reflects society better than other types of computing architectures," Stutz said during the panel discussion. "It is similar to when, in the 1980s, the PC gave us a better reflection of the user. P-to-p is going to become very important."

Although Stutz did not reveal any specific plans Microsoft has for p-to-p architectures, he said he envisioned p-to-p technology being used in the core development of business and consumer software products.

Many of the smaller ventures showcased innovative platforms and applications in hopes of capturing the fancy of the venture capitalist community, which was out in force at the show.

Often viewed as a visionary in the p-to-p market, Groove Networks Inc. founder and CEO Ray Ozzie played a prominent role in several panels and keynote speeches. For emerging p-to-p architectures to have a chance for success in enterprise environments, Ozzie said that applications and systems need to respect core enterprise values and concerns, including maintaining control of networks and bandwidth.

"We need to understand the enterprise mind-set: Do no harm," Ozzie said. "The enterprise has a need to know what is going on at the edge of networks."

New computing platforms must satisfy core business objectives or at least provide opportunity and competitive advantage, Ozzie said.

Despite the excitement and interest in p-to-p from a variety of enterprise-savvy vendors, Giga's Enderle cautioned of significant risks.

Several other companies touted platforms and applications designed to ramp up the appeal of p-to-p.

Roku Technologies Corp. demonstrated its Roku Platform that allows a PC to act as the hub of personal and corporate information. The company also unveiled its Roku Share product, which lets organizations share information instantly using drag-and-drop functionality with selected groups, according to Roku officials. The system features notification services, wireless rendering, and active search. Roku's software is included as a bundled component of Hewlett-Packard's eServices enterprise portal offering.

Thinkstream Inc. previewed its distributed information and commerce engine, which leverages a distributed architecture to access an unlimited number of information sources, such as Web sites, file servers, databases, documents, and video.

Meanwhile, OpenDesign Inc. showed a platform that attempts to combine client/server and p-to-p architectures. OpenDesign's system is a collection of smart, programmable routers that can execute code, policies, and data -- all critical to distributed enterprise applications.

Porivo Technologies Inc. launched at the conference a pilot beta program for its peerReview, a Web performance testing application that uses the distributed computing model to evaluate, load test, and analyze Web sites.

Jack McCarthy and Ashlee Vance, a reporter at IDG New Service, an InfoWorld affiliate, contributed to this article.

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