What is Peer-to-Peer?


Peer-to-peer computing isn’t exactly new. As many as 30 years ago, companies were working on architectures that would now be labeled peer-to-peer. But today, several factors have lit a fire under the peer-to-peer movement: inexpensive computing power, bandwidth, and storage.

Put simply, peer-to-peer computing is the sharing of computer resources and services by direct exchange between systems. These resources and services include the exchange of information, processing cycles, cache storage, and disk storage for files. Peer-to-peer computing takes advantage of existing desktop computing power and networking connectivity, allowing economical clients to leverage their collective power to benefit the entire enterprise.

In a peer-to-peer architecture, computers that have traditionally been used solely as clients communicate directly among themselves and can act as both clients and servers, assuming whatever role is most efficient for the network. This reduces the load on servers and allows them to perform specialized services (such as mail-list generation, billing, etc.) more effectively At the same time, peer-to-peer computing can reduce the need for IT organizations to grow parts of its infrastructure in order to support certain services, such as backup storage.

Peer-to-Peer at Work

In the enterprise, peer-to-peer is about more than just the universal file-sharing model popularized by Napster. Business applications for peer-to-peer computing fall into a handful of scenarios.

1. Collaboration. Peer-to-peer computing empowers individuals and teams to create and administer real-time and off-line collaboration areas in a variety of ways, whether administered, unadministered, across the Internet, or behind the firewall. Peer-to-peer collaboration tools also mean that teams have access to the freshest data.

Collaboration increases productivity by decreasing the time for multiple reviews by project participants and allows teams in different geographic areas to work together. As with file sharing, it can decrease network traffic by eliminating e-mail and decreases server storage needs by storing the project locally.

2. Edge services. It’s exactly what you think: Akamai for the enterprise. Peer-to-peer computing can help businesses deliver services and capabilities more efficiently across diverse geographic boundaries. In essence, edge services move data closer to the point at which it is actually consumed acting as a network caching mechanism. For example, a company with sites in multiple continents needs to provide the same standard training across multiple continents using the Web. Instead of streaming the database for the training session on one central server located at the main site, the company can store the video on local clients, which act essentially as local database servers. This speeds up the session because the streaming happens over the local LAN instead of the WAN. It also utilizes existing storage space, thereby saving money by eliminating the need for local storage on servers.

3. Distributed computing and resources. Peer-to-peer computing can help businesses with large-scale computer processing needs. Using a network of computers, peer-to-peer technology can use idle CPU MIPS and disk space, allowing businesses to distribute large computational jobs across multiple computers. In addition, results can be shared directly between participating peers.

The combined power of previously untapped computational resources can easily surpass the normal available power of an enterprise system without distributed computing. The results are faster completion times and lower cost because the technology takes advantage of power available on client systems.

4. Intelligent agents. Peer to peer computing also allows computing networks to dynamically work together using intelligent agents. Agents reside on peer computers and communicate various kinds of information back and forth. Agents may also initiate tasks on behalf of other peer systems. For instance, Intelligent agents can be used to prioritize tasks on a network, change traffic flow, search for files locally or determine anomalous behavior and stop it before it effects the network, such as a virus.

More on Peer-to-Peer Computing

TechWeb News: Peer-To-Peer Companies Discuss Napster Ruling (2/13/01)

TechWeb News: P-To-P Vendors Must Prove They’re Worthy (2/12/01)

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