Looking Before They Leap

IT taking a wait-and-see stance on Jxta And .Net

Brian Moura needs to hear better arguments in favor of peer-to-peer networking technology before he gives it any consideration. "Peer-to-peer is not on our radar screen," said Moura, assistant city manager in San Carlos, Calif. "If we already have application servers and file servers, whats the advantage or value-add of letting each persons PC be a server?"

Sun Microsystems Inc. recently announced its Jxta P2P platform. But even with the recent buzz around Napster and the appeal of P2P, most corporate IT managers are taking the same approach as Moura—they want to see some concrete business models as well as some code behind the technology.

Jxta—which is pronounced "juxta" and will be open-source—lets software and Web developers build distributed computing applications faster and easier, according to Bill Joy, Suns chief scientist and leader of the Palo Alto, Calif., companys Jxta research group.

The research group is focusing on how to pipe—or connect—peers, group them together logically, monitor and control what they do, and add an all-important security layer. The group is also seeking input from developers as well as their participation in an April online conference that will outline the details of Jxta.

At the OReilly Peer-to-Peer Conference last month in San Francisco, Joy said Jxta is the third in a series of platforms starting with the letter J, following Java in the mid-1990s and Jini in the late 1990s. Its based on the Apache Web server license and development model because of Apaches successful track record. Jxta is intended to be one piece of Suns vision of the future of the Internet, called Sun Open Network Environment, or Sun ONE.

Despite the promise of Jxta and Microsoft Corp.s .Net—another client-centered architecture that is supposed to revolutionize computing on the Internet—some arent convinced that Microsoft and Sun are ready to deliver this next phase or era.

"Most enterprises are reluctant to change their IT infrastructure because they have such an investment in the way their system works today. Unless something revolutionary comes along, theyre not likely to change," Moura said. "I need to hear why theres a move from a more centralized enterprise server strategy to a peer-to-peer strategy. What is compelling about it? I dont want peer-to-peer because the server strategy is working."

P2P—technology that allows files to be swapped directly between users rather than through a central server—presents a potential support problem because each user probably wont back up his or her data on a hard disk at the end of the day, whereas servers automatically back up files every night, Moura said. Any PC with a repository of information cant be turned off and still be accessible to others.

According to George Reese, a senior architect at Imaginet, a Minneapolis-based company that builds custom business-to-business software applications, its unclear what Jxta and .Net really mean to business development.

"They both need to make an effort to show what it even means to change our infrastructure to integrate with their strategies," Reese said. "More important, however, they need to explain what enterprise problems their efforts are solving for us. Neither at this time provide any concrete business rationale that would motivate me to invest in infrastructural changes at this time."

Ed Gentry, a senior development architect for Level 8 Systems Inc., in Cary, N.C., said he isnt hearing any demand for P2P computing among his enterprise customers. Gentry said he believes P2P is still more hobbyist-focused.

"Even something like messaging that is P2P and asynchronous is used in places but is still not used overall in the business community," said Gentry, whose company builds enterprise-scale systems for financial services companies and other clients. "Its not on their radar screen. Customers ask us about WAP [Wireless Access Protocol] and Web services."

In the enterprise space, "we tend to be a bit more conservative. Were not early adopters," Gentry said.

Others said Suns involvement could be positive.

"Im, in general, pretty happy when large corporations put their money behind open-source projects," said James Martin, an open-source developer and a technical coordinator for Educational Talent Search, a grant program administered by the University of Arkansas, in Fayetteville. Major vendors involvement can speed the pace of innovation or make the technology "more accessible to people outside the open-source community proper," Martin said.

The risk is if Sun tries to tie the platform too much to its proprietary technology or its hardware, he said.

Dick Hardt, CEO of open-source software company ActiveState Tools Corp., said it would be good if Sun could provide a framework and prevent developers from having to do the same underlying coding each time they create applications.

"There are a whole bunch of projects doing P2P-type activities," said Hardt, in Vancouver, British Columbia. "Theyre all silos. They have full implementations right down to the TCP/IP stack. There hasnt been someone who has come out and said, Heres a framework."

Hardt said people wont use Jxta if it is too closely tied to Suns proprietary technology, but Joy said it will be cross-language and cross-platform.

"Its a very positive direction," Hardt said. "The negative is, wheres the code? Its a problem that needs to be solved today."