Greg Enright: Peer-to-peer takes another step forward

From the Editor

While the debate over Napster and its use of peer-to-peer networking protocols to share music files across the Internet raged last year, long-time proponents of the nearly forgotten communication method had a message: this will be far bigger than merely sending the latest Rage Against the Machine ditty from one PC to another.

If a recent development in the collaborative computing world is any indication, those proponents’ predictions will be coming to fruition perhaps sooner than even they expected.

Last month, Microsoft invested US$51 million in Groove Networks, a firm that offers inter-enterprise collaboration products by way of a peer-to-peer infrastructure.

Groove’s software and services allow users to share data that is automatically encrypted in shared environments that users can access after submitting a “passphrase” for entry. Users can work together in these shared spaces either in real-time, online environments or offline at whatever time they choose. Any data that comes out of such sessions is saved and synchronized on users’ systems.

With products such as Groove’s, what we’re seeing is the next step in the renaissance of peer-to-peer, a methodology which had, for the better part of the 1990s, been overshadowed by other newfangled and revolutionary networking protocols, most notably IP. The simplicity of peer-to-peer communication, however, was just too good to be true for IS managers longing for a return to simpler, less-complex computing environments in which to work. When the Napster phenomenon began sweeping the world using P2P in 2000, peer-to-peer was given the proverbial killer app that it needed to bring those advantages into the limelight.

Although ethical and financial controversies soon grew up around the practice of swapping songs across the Internet, P2P had been given a major jolt of energy, and companies, both upstarts and old hands, began to see the opportunities it carried with it.

With the Microsoft-Groove announcement of last week, peer-to-peer has received another positive endorsement on its path back to being a core piece of the enterprise networking puzzle. It could very well be the case that Groove’s collaborative technologies somehow end up being a part of Microsoft’s collaborative offerings. If, like so many other Microsoft platforms (i.e. NetMeeting), it eventually gets bundled with the various Windows operating systems, look for peer-to-peer to be adopted by thousands of users – even if they weren’t actively looking for it.

If this is how things turn out in the collaborative computing world, the die-hard fans of peer-to-peer networking will have all the more reason to say, “I told you so.”