After Fast Kickoff, a Slow Start

P2P working group is in low gear after last year's flash & pizzazz.

After months of politicking, the peer-to-peer working group is finally getting down to work, although living up to its name will not be easy.

Attendance has plummeted since the groups first meeting in October, which attracted more than 300 people, and key companies—including IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems—have so far refused to join.

Intel formed the group with much fanfare last August to set standards for what it saw as a multibillion-dollar opportunity to sell more processors. P2P is exemplified by a variety of applications, including file-sharing and communications platforms that operate on the edges of the network, and distributed computing applications in which tasks are divided among many processors across the network.

Half of the groups original 18 members—including IBM and several start-ups—either have dropped out or, in Popular Powers case, gone out of business. IBM attends meetings as a silent observer, and Intel P2P evangelist Bob Knighten believes IBM and Microsoft will join at some point. However, he has little hope for Sun, which is bent on setting its own standard through its JXTA technology, and expressed disappointment that Groove Networks, a P2P company in which Intel has invested, did not show up at last weeks meeting.

Knighten says Groove has done "excellent work" in P2P security, but the company recently laid off 19, or 8 percent of employees, and refocused itself on direct sales to Fortune 1000 companies.

"Times are tough," Knighten says. "The question is, do companies have money to attend? And do they have time?"

Knighten acknowledged that Intel contributed to the extraordinary hype surrounding P2P, which is still an ill-defined space and has attracted only $265 million in venture money. He says the company walks a fine line between building its own P2P business and "understanding the direction of the P2P community." Intel attempted unsuccessfully to dominate the group, which now claims 36 members and is organized as an unincorporated industry association.

Nevertheless, the group has several committed start-ups that are pushing to better define standards for security, Network Address Translations and firewalls, distributed file systems, and interoperability, among other areas.

Membership fees also have been lowered to attract smaller companies. Andrew Grimshaw, founder of Applied Metacomputing, a commercial spin-off of his research on grid computing, called for a security working group to collect case studies on interactions between P2P systems and on emerging standards like Microsofts Passport. A draft of the groups work will be available in the fall.

Another group will work on helping members sell into enterprise and consumer markets, which are quite different.