Peer-to-peer computing has been in the news quite a bit recently, especially with the legalities afflicting Napster. Sun Microsystems has entered the P2P fray with the recent launch of JXTA.org, a site for peer to peer hardcores. Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, director of marketing and business development for Sun Microsystems Inc. recently spoke with ComputerWorld Canada senior writer Chris Conrath about Sun’s Project JXTA (short for juxtapose) and where peer-to-peer computing is headed.
CWC: Why this, why now?
Van Den Hoogen: Late last summer Bill Joy (Sun co-founder and corporate executive officer) had been talking to Mike Clary (vice-president at Sun) about what he wanted to do as the next project and peer to peer seemed to fall in line with his vision of distributed computing. So he asked us and we got funding to pull together an incubation inside of Sun.
Peer to peer is not a set of new technologies, it has been around for 20 or 30 years and computer science has been trying to solve this problem for a long time. I think the “why now” thing really comes out in terms of (now when) we look at it there are more nodes connected, more connected devices on the network, more people are on the Internet, more bandwidth that is available, more processor power, [peer to peer] just kind of makes sense if you look at the overall scheme of things. (In addition) most of us have a hard time getting access to information out on the deep Web. So when we looked at all of this we said there is a new kind of Internet that has evolved and emerged…and peer to peer lends itself well to that.
CWC: Where does JXTA fit within Sun?
Van Den Hoogen: We started (it) as a research project within the incubation lab and took it to market through the open source channel. JXTA is now established as an open source project, JXTA.org.
CWC: When was JXTA.org launched and how is it doing?
Van Den Hoogen: It was launched on April 25, 2001. It was always our intent to allow this to get widely distributed and widely adopted and we choose the protocol route in order to allow that to happen. I believe more than 50,000 downloads of that technology and close to 20 projects have started in [recent] weeks and those are all being done by the developer community. The developer community has pretty much embraced JXTA and taken it to the next level. They are starting new projects and also helping define the next generation of where [JXTA] is going. What we released on April 25 was the specification of the protocols, all of the documentation associated with it and an early implementation written in Java.
CWC: What is going to drive people to JXTA?
Van Den Hoogen: Collaborative (computing in general) is going to be a big driving factor. We are seeing a lot of the people who have signed up early on JXTA doing just that and they are doing it not only for the consumers but for the enterprise. I know Groove took an early first step at that…but there are a lot of new companies that are emerging around the world working on the same sort of problems.
CWC: Are not the Gnutellas and Grooves or the world your direct competition?
Van Den Hoogen: No, we view them as being complementary technology. A Gnutella spokesperson said Gnutella could have been built on top of JXTA. The same thing goes for Groove. Groove is building a full out vertical stack but I think that is because they had to, they started three years ago, there was no open protocol that they could use. So I think people like Groove are going to re-evaluate their models and figure out if they are going to want to innovate on the top level of their stack and allow the plumbing to be done by somebody else.
CWC: Will we see more peer to peer for peripherals?
Van Den Hoogen: Right now if you give an instant message to the guy down the hall you are actually going back to [say] Virginia, to the central server to look up that guy’s address. Why would you [do this]? It makes more sense to have that happen peer to peer. We believe…[that] things like instant messaging or various communication layers will happen peer to peer. The industry has been talking about collaboration efforts for years. Peer to peer is where it finally makes sense.
CWC: Sun recently purchased peer-to-peer search company InfraSearch Inc. How does the technology fit in with JXTA?
Van Den Hoogen: That deep Web concept comes into play and that is why we were so interested in InfraSearch. What they are allowing us to do is go behind the interfaces of the Web and find the data deeply nested inside of it. We have just released a prototype, a working implementation of their technology on top of JXTA recently. We are calling it JXTA Search. So basically, you can now use JXTA Search to enable you to find information out on the greater Internet. But what needs to happen is content providers need to write, what we are calling, adapters to allow their data to be searched upon. So it is like an inverted search capability. Instead of traditional search engines that go out and index everything, what is going on here is that you provide the queries and the metadata that you [want to search], so that when you get (a) hit from the search site, you are going to have a more accurate response.
CWC: Who are the developers involved?
Van Den Hoogen: People are showing up at JXTA.org who they (Tim O’Reilly and other peer-to-peer specialists) hadn’t seen in years. They are coming back to the fold (including) key computer scientists. These people are showing up whose names we haven’t seen in years. They are coming from all over. They are coming out of peer to peer. There are others that are interested in open source. There is a lot of buzz about what is it and how can we make it better. The fact that we turned it over early [allows users] to have huge input into what future direction it will go.
CWC: About how many people at Sun are involved in JXTA?
Van Den Hoogen: It is a very small project from Sun’s standpoint. It started off as a small research project and we had ten developers. [Now the technical team] is a couple of dozen because when we acquired InfraSearch we got another 10 individuals. It is less than two dozen people.
CWC: How do users solve bugs?
Van Den Hoogen: You just go to the JXTA.org. Go to the discussion (groups) or send an e-mail and then the bug gets registered by our community manager. You can fix it yourself or somebody else might step up an fix it. We are keeping everything in one mailing list for now [but] the community has actually told us to start splitting it out because there are a lot of newbies that show up…so we need to have a newbie list and an advanced list.
CWC: Where can JXTA and peer to peer ultimately go?
Van Den Hoogen: We can envision a world where there will be peer to peer on every device… (including) the smallest footprint devices out there.