It's easy to understand why peer-to-peer computing gets overlooked in the enterprise. It’s viewed primarily as a way to use disparate resources, but with loads of extra security and management hassles.
Yet P2P is more than kids swapping bootlegged music on Napster. Inside the enterprise, P2P can encompass collaboration and communication to and from any networked device, anywhere. And now P2P tools are maturing to a point where you can knit together your network without eliminating safeguards and supervision. For example, Sun Microsystems’ open-source P2P technology, dubbed JXTA, is a development standard capable of supporting initiatives for laptops, mobile phones, PDAs and just about any digital device or sensor.
JXTA eliminates interoperability roadblocks. That means that adding chat or directory look-up features to different devices doesn’t require a rewrite of code. By offering standard protocols, JXTA makes possible a P2P community whose members might — if they’re thoughtful enough — create a development environment that crosses languages and devices. There are already JXTA implementations in C, Java, Perl, Python and C# for .Net that let you do device or service discovery. More are needed.
I think there are three areas in which P2P might be used inside companies. The first is in content-delivery networks. Rather than making a call on a central server for each query, it may be faster and cheaper to fetch data from a device that’s already cached the information. Why go to a central server to view the CEO’s media presentation when you can get it from someone in your department who has already viewed it?
Second, a class of real-time collaboration and workgroup applications makes it possible to share files, invite new members and create new workspaces easily on the fly. People should be able to work on the same diagram, chat in real time and engage their peers remotely without added stress to IT infrastructure.
Finally — and this is still more hope than reality—a good P2P architecture should let wireless encrypted data flow back and forth between mobile users for things such as group e-mail lists, phone directories and schedules. Changes can be synced when one user gets tethered to the central nervous system.
There have already been one million downloads of JXTA, which comes with a pretty good open-source licence.
Perhaps this will spur some P2P creativity.