Intel outlines peer-to-peer vision

Nick Huber

Intel's grand vision of peer-to-peer computing, outlined at its developers' forum last week, will have only a limited impact...

Nick Huber

Intel's grand vision of peer-to-peer computing, outlined at its developers' forum last week, will have only a limited impact on businesses and take years to catch on.

This was the consensus among analysts after Intel claimed that peer-to-peer computing would streamline IT operations and transform the way companies share files and applications and store data.

Peer-to-peer technology is best exemplified by the Napster music Web site, which allows fans to swap music files. But Intel believes peer-to-peer computing will also change the face of business computing.

By allowing desktop users to share information directly - bypassing the traditional client/server-based systems - Intel claims that companies will make better use of applications, harness the network's processing power and store data more efficiently.

The chip giant also predicts that peer-to-peer systems will be driven by the Internet and the inexorable growth of Web-based applications.

"By adding peer-to-peer capabilities companies can tap into existing teraflops of performance and terabytes of storage to make today's applications more efficient and enable new applications in the future," said Patrick Gelsinger, vice president and chief technology officer for Intel's architecture group.

"An IT department can tap into a company's computers and use their collective power and storage to perform data-intensive calculations, or simulations over a network without overloading the corporate network," he added.

However, serious questions are already being raised over the practicality of extensive peer-to-peer computing and the headaches it could create for IT managers.

Some analysts see peer-to-peer as essentially distributed computing under another name, and is nothing new.

Back in the early 1990s, Microsoft released Windows for Work Groups 3.11. Since then IT managers have moved en-masse to the centralised client/server model, allowing them control over the flow of information within companies.

Security is one of the main concerns hanging over peer-to-peer computing. "With peer-to-peer it could be anyone trying to access the database," said Ashim Pal, international programme director for Meta Group.

Intel-backed Bluetooth technology - a chipset allowing devices to synchronise different functions, including security certificates - could help. But this will take up to three years before being widely adopted, added Pal.

Analysts are not entirely negative about peer-to-peer systems. They predict they will play an important role in businesses linking up certain employees.

One example would be in linking up external consultants to the company's local area network.

Peer-to-peer's other key application will be in connecting devices - laptops, Wap mobile phones and TVs. This will benefit both business and consumers, according to Neil Ward-Dutton, principal consultant at Ovum, who compares Intel's peer-to-peer strategy to Microsoft's Net strategy.

Both companies aim to connect desktops and hand-helds so the devices are more than just dumb terminals. Both suppliers also have an obvious vested interest in this expansion of PC functions and power.

"When you phone someone up in the future the phone could be connected to the same PC," said Ward-Dutton. "There's no reason why the call could not be connected to your TV."

Intel appears to have over-hyped the impact of peer-to-peer computing for firms. There are immense security implications in thousands of employees sharing mission-critical information - in and outside the company - via desktops. That also leaves the issue of wider data back-up procedures for IT managers to worry about.

But peer-to-peer is set for a comeback and is likely to play a central role in connecting hand-held devices and company networks, often through the Internet.

Intel and peer-to-peer computing

  • Intel has established an industry working group to foster standards and protocols in peer-to-peer computing. Members include Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Applied Meta Computing, United Devices and MangoSoft

  • Intel believes peer-to-peer computing can be used to harness the processing power of desktop PCs, applications and data storage. Another aim is to ease the burden of work on servers, weighed down by common tasks such as file serving or virus protection

  • Intel will begin an internal trial of several peer-to-peer applications later this year.

  • Read more on IT risk management