P2P at Work

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-06-11 Print this article Print

P2P at Work

Setting aside the power struggle over which companies will provide the programming languages and infrastructure, P2P is already proving useful to business. Instant messaging is perhaps the best example of a P2P application that has been rapidly adopted by businesses as a central communications tool. IDC expects the number of corporate users of IM programs to grow from 5.5 million this year to more than 180 million in 2004. But not many people really think of IM as a P2P app.

As it happens, several leading P2P companies began work years before Napster popped up to give the music industry night sweats. "The people who are actually interested in peer-to-peer are providing solutions to problems," Intels Knighten said. "They dont really care that its peer-to-peer computing per se."

Groove Networks, which sells a P2P collaboration application, is indicative of this phenomenon. Ray Ozzie, the developer who created Lotus Developments Notes, formed Groove in 1997, inspired by the P2P capabilities he observed in the Doom death matches his teen-age son was playing with his friends over the Internet.

When the company started scouting prospective customers last year, it faced potentially deal-killing resistance from IT people, said Andrew Mahon, Grooves director of strategic marketing. They had heard about P2P in the context of Napster, and were wary about introducing that sort of thing into their networks. They didnt want to lose control.

"The IT folks would come into the meeting with their arms folded," Mahon said. "Theyd have seen the research about security and other concerns about peer-to-peer. And thats natural, because the IT guys are the guardians of the infrastructure and they want to be responsive to the organization, but they dont want to wreck the infrastructure for short-term advantages."

Once the Groove salesperson walked them through the authentication and encryption features built into the application, the IT managers stopped worrying and started thinking of how they could use Groove. "We dont consider IT a stumbling block that must be appeased," Mahon said. "We see them as a customer."

Groove has also discovered that P2P alone does not sell a product, unlike the Web technology four or five years ago, which some business managers scrambled madly to adopt, regardless of the business value.

"There isnt a sword hanging over their heads, and their boss saying, If you dont get your peer-to-peer strategy in place in the next six months, youre fired," Mahon said. "In terms of the marketplace, what weve learned is that if theres no immediately apparent business value, theres no conversation."

Another example of a successful young P2P company is Oculus Technologies, founded in June 1999 with the goal of improving product development processes. Chris Williams, Oculus president and CEO, said his company ended up using P2P because it was the best way to connect the members of product development teams. Oculus CO system connects information from disparate desktop applications: For example, it can let a designer link a single piece of data from a computer-aided design program to an Excel spreadsheet on the product managers desktop.

"Customers are looking for solutions. They dont want to hear that I do peer-to-peer. They want to hear that I solve a problem," Williams said, adding with a chuckle, "We mainly use peer-to-peer when we talk to the media and the financial community."

Oculus customers include United Technologies and Ford Motor, which is also the privately held companys largest investor.

Other companies with P2P-based products have had success in addressing customers specific IT needs, often in vertical industry segments. Consilient, based in Berkeley, Calif., has been working with BP Amoco to deploy Consilients Sitelets, portable information containers that move around the network in a P2P manner, to accelerate such business processes as consolidating financial data from BP offices around the world.

Boston start-up WorldStreet has tailored its P2P system to the financial community — again, to solve a very particular information problem. The issue WorldStreets prospective customers face is this: Analysts are bombarded with hundreds of e-mail messages, without any indication of how critical the information actually is. WorldStreets plug-in for Microsoft Outlook lets an investment banks customers, for example, decide what kind of research they want to receive, for which companies and from which financial analysts, among other parameters.

"Relationships arent static — thats why a portal or Web site doesnt make sense," said Rod Hodgman, WorldStreets chief operating officer. "Whats different about our P2P product is that its a completely balanced relationship. You can set up profiles to accept only the information you care about. Its information per your specification."

Bear, Stearns & Co. last month started using WorldStreet in a pilot project with about a dozen employees. Stanley Sakellson, the firms senior managing director of institutional equities, doesnt see WorldStreets P2P technology as an anarchic force introducing complexity into the network; rather, he sees it as reducing existing data overload problems.

"A typical portfolio manager gets 400 to 500 e-mails a day," Sakellson said. "What WorldStreet does is filter the information to determine whether something is really pertinent. Machines are speeding the information delivery to people, and it will be machines that filter the information."


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