Intel's P2P California dreamin'

Pooling in-house IT resources with those of business partners would mean not only bridging a firewall but also a credibility...

Pooling in-house IT resources with those of business partners would mean not only bridging a firewall but also a credibility gap. James Monroy is based in San Francisco

Intel had chosen the soapbox of its annual showcase to baptise P2P as the Next Big Thing. The company's CTO Patrick Gelsinger compared its potential impact to the revolution wrought by Mosaic, the first browser to tame the World Wide Web. Spurred on by the controversial popularity of online music distribution platform Napster, a rising tide of start-ups are hell-bent on exporting P2P from consumer file sharing applications to corporations.

"Picture all those PCs that lie idle between employee shifts, working 24 by 7 to crunch your firm's most data-intensive tasks, maybe stepping in at the flick of a switch or router to ease the corporate backbone's workload," was Gelsinger's upbeat message. More radical still, imagine pooling in-house computing resources across the firewall with those of business partners.

The question is whether CIOs will buy into this brave new world where standard software can be deployed across multiple PCs and servers used to pool processing and storage capacity.

Looking past the hyperbole, though, P2P is nothing new. It is essentially distributed computing for the Internet age. The advent of a single-protocol globe-girdling network extends the application of distributed computing beyond projects hitherto limited to single companies or networked research laboratories.

Exponents may evangelise about the possibilities of bringing supercomputer-strength processing power within range of peer PCs. But the ability of the new model to fulfil its potential depends on how far the industry can guarantee data security and policing of network access. The management headache of entrusting mission-critical applications to 2,000 peers at multiple geographical sites was considerable, admitted Andrew Grimshaw, chief executive of Applied Meta Computing. His company's P2P software is being tested by Seattle aerospace giant Boeing.

The peer-to-peer working group has a mandate to troubleshoot security scalability and management concerns standing in the way of mass adoption of P2P. But the group has a credibility gap to bridge before P2P-shy CIOs need to fear the chop.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)