Techno-whiz Ray Ozzie is hoping application developers will get into his Groove and help his new peer-to-peer collaboration software become a corporate hit.
Ozzie last month lifted the veil from Groove Networks Inc., a start-up he has been building for three years in a converted shoe factory in Beverly, Mass. The heart of the effort is the Groove Transceiver, a Napster-like peer-to-peer client that runs on a user’s PC and allows the sharing of applications and files with other Groove users. The sharing occurs without a centralized server.
Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes, says the idea came to him after watching his son play a game on-line with friends.
The software’s most advanced feature is real-time synchronization of data shared by on-line users. Groove instantaneously updates the data of a user who reconnects with his peers after working offline.
“This is the hard part of the platform,” Ozzie says. Data integrity is a tough issue in peer-to-peer computing as users create and edit multiple copies of documents spread across numerous PCs.
Groove is targeting corporations and consumers. The company is developing an enterprise Groove Transceiver that IT departments could centrally manage. Those controls are not part of the first beta-test version released last week – available for free download at www.groove.net – but will be included when the product ships early next year.
While the potential of peer-to-peer computing is generating much industry hype, experts suggest IT executives carefully examine the full implications of products such as Groove.
“This is going to come into the enterprise whether IT wants it or not,” says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group Inc., an IT research firm in Stamford, Conn. “Corporations have to be proactive to have policies and procedures in place around peer-to-peer.”
Companies are looking for richer ways to collaborate with business partners, and Groove provides “in-context” collaboration, Cain adds. “The applications are right there, and you can immediately work without having to get out of one application and move into another.”
The Groove Transceiver, a sizable client that requires 32MB of RAM, sends e-mail or instant messaging “invitations” to other users to join a “shared space” on their hard drive. Users communicate and collaborate using voice, text messages, threaded discussions, drawing and word processing tools or file sharing. All stored data and communication are encrypted.
“Fundamentally, this is about connecting people, tools and information in shared spaces in a time frame that is relevant to those users,” Ozzie says. “But this is a platform product and the real value to businesses will be when they apply it to their specific problems.”
The concept of corporate users sharing portions of their hard drives with the outside world may scare IT executives.
“The key is you have to make the enterprise comfortable with the concept of making data available in this way,” says John Wollman, senior vice-president of solutions for Alliance Consulting, an IT consulting firm in New York.
“For the enterprise, the technology has to be secure, use standard protocols, be extensible and support synchronous and asynchronous communication,” he says.
Groove has those features.
Alliance has introduced Peer-to-Here for integrating peer-to-peer with corporate and Web-based applications and has developed a product called Organizational Proxy. The proxy can route Groove sessions to enterprise users, expose corporate Web services to Groove groups or collaborate as a peer by brokering access to data. The company also is developing a mechanism to create an audit trail for file sharing.
The key to Groove’s success will lie with third-party developers who will enrich the platform.
“We will be dependent on our partners for development of applications,” says Michael Matthews, executive vice-president of Groove.
The Groove Development Kit and about 2,000 Application Programming Interfaces will let developers create custom applications that run in the shared space. Corporate users will license the managed Groove Transceiver and various frameworks to enable the development of custom applications. Pricing has not been set.
Groove Networks can be found at www.groove.net.