Swimming against the peer-to-peer tide

When most IT managers hear "peer-to-peer computing", they think of Harry and Suzie in accounting bringing down the entire corporate network by downloading and swapping MP3 music files. In most cases, central IT stops this type of activity dead by clamping down on Web access. So much for the democratisation of computing power.

But peer-to-peer - broadly defined as individual machines communicating without the need for a centralised server - has more potential than the brouhaha over Napster would lead you to believe. Venture capitalists are throwing money at businesses that look to improve real-time collaboration, to leverage unused CPU power, and even to automate machine-to-machine transactions in applications such as supply-chain management.

Even as hype around this Next Big Thing builds, IT managers are shaking their heads in disbelief. Last week saw the introduction of Groove Networks from Lotus Development's Notes inventor and Groove Networks founder Ray Ozzie.

There are a number of reasons to fear p-to-p: end users can bypass centralised security measures such as authorisation as well as eat up still-scarce bandwidth. And with the ever-growing need for giant Web servers, IT continues to centralise processing and to build out around a server-centric model. Control is a powerful thing.

As they have been with other phenomena that started in the consumer world and made it into the corporation, end users are an influential lobby.

Companies such as Groove Networks have understood the freedom and creativity that end users can incite without the need for central IT or outside consultants. But will p-to-p be a popular revolt or a peaceful coexistence?

Do you see business applications for p-to-p?

* Write to me at martin_lamonica@info-world.com and copy to David_Ben-yon@idg.com.au

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