Businesses seek ways to take advantage of Napster tech

While Napster Inc., Gnutella and the thorny issue of intellectual property rights have thrust peer-to-peer (P2P) computing into the spotlight, some high-tech businesses are now looking to tame the computing model for their own purposes.

Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and others are planning to host the first meeting of the Peer-to-Peer Working Group in hopes of ironing out P2P standards so the technology can be used in a business-to-business setting without privacy or security fears.

Companies are eyeing P2P technology as a way to offer an efficient and inexpensive way to do business, particularly of the business-to-consumer and business-to-business variety, according to officials involved in the standards push.

“There are some tasks that absolutely have to be done by big servers in the centre of the wheel, but there are other things, such as virus protection that can be run utilizing the idle computing cycles that exist in a large network,” said Howard High, communications manager at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel.

Indeed, High said, the savings in the P2P model can be dramatic. Intel engineers have used internal P2P technology called Netbatch in chip design and have saved Intel US$500 million over a decade, High said.

Of course, the chip giant has a distinct interest in promoting P2P, which, ideally, could take advantage of computer downtime when more computing capacity is available.

“P2P information-sharing technology will radically change business models and enterprise technology management approaches since it addresses an exponentially growing demand for more and faster information,” Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner analyst John Pescatore said in a recent report.

One company hoping to take advantage of P2P’s resurgence is Provo, Utah-based NextPage, which has shipped NXT 3.0, the latest version of its software that allows file servers to communicate throughout an enterprise. The software is aimed at businesses that need immediate access to information that is spread across the world.

“We are focused very much on [being] able to create access on a B2B framework,” said Darren Lee, NextPage’s strategy and product marketing vice-president. “We’re doing distributed access to corporate information content, from e-mail to documents to slides. All of these things can be distributed through our [NXT 3.0] platform.”

Tacit Knowledge Systems is also looking to take its P2P solution to the B2B stage. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s KnowledgeMail scours outbound e-mail and “deconstructs” the language in the e-mail, finding data and terms to generate a profile. The idea is to let enterprise IT shops build profiles, which are published on corporate intranets if the employee consents, to hook up employees with common skillsets to work on corporate teams, said David Gilmour, president and CEO of Tacit.

He predicted that such P2P knowledge-sharing solutions will become more popular as B2B relationships become centered on the internal expertise of each company.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to expose just enough of your own knowledge to your partners and have matches that allow you to talk to people on the same subjects that are of interest to you?”