November 7, 2001

P2P research report strips the hype from peer-to-peer

Author: JT Smith

Is Peer-to-Peer (P2P) technology following Napster into
oblivion, or is it quietly becoming an indispensible pillar of Network
computing? The "2001 P2P Networking Overview: The Emergent P2P Platform
of Presence, Identity, and Edge Resources," a new research report from
O'Reilly & Associates, cuts through the hype and spells out the true
utility and innovation of Peer-To-Peer computing.

"In all the hype about P2P being the next big thing," says Clay Shirky,
one of the report's authors, "it's all too easy to overlook the fact
that it is already a very useful thing."

O'Reilly's "2001 P2P Networking Overview" includes P2P company profiles
and evaluations as well as an in-depth explanation and assessment of
the underlying technologies. And finally, the report describes the
state of the industry with a data-based analysis of where it's going.

"Peer-To-Peer is a mindset, not a particular technology, or even an
industry," says Dale Dougherty, vice president of Online Publishing at
O'Reilly and one of the authors of the report. "P2P architectures offer
powerful approaches for fundamental problems of the Web--problems like
bandwidth cost, denial of service attacks, and the cost of maintaining
24/7 systems, etc. The key application areas of P2P are file sharing,
instant messaging, distributed computation, and P2P groupware."

Given the wide range of applications for P2P technology, defining P2P
can be elusive. The Report's authors conclude that what is truly
significant about P2P can be summed up as PIE--Presence, Identity and
Edge Resources. P2P effectively utilizes resources that are distributed
at the edge of the network, such as user's PCs. A P2P application makes
use of these resources, knowing where they are and when they are
available. P2P is giving rise to technologies that manage identity and
presence, as evidenced in instant messaging applications, which are
becoming essential components in next generation application
environments such as Microsoft's .NET.

"Peer-to-peer is more than just the basis for a few cool applications,"
Shirky adds, "it is a set of ideas about how to connect up the nodes at
the edges of the Internet, how to build robust applications on
distributed and unreliable hardware, and how to get at the vast
untapped computational resources that exist on the world's PCs. Use of
decentralized resources is becoming part of every application designed
to operate at internet scale."

About the "2001 P2P Networking Overview"
The "2001 P2P Networking Overview" from O'Reilly Research is a
comprehensive look at peer-to-peer from business and technical
perspectives. It describes the state of the industry and offers
opinions about where it's going to go next, with hard data to back up
those opinions.

What you will find in the report:

  • Company profiles
  • In-depth explanations of the underlying technologies
  • P2P services: present and future
  • Analysis of the hype: what the press gets wrong
  • Estimates of mindshare and community size
  • Forecasts for the field

"2001 P2P Networking Overview:
The Emergent P2P Platform of Presence, Identity, and Edge Resources"
By Dale Dougherty, Clay Shirky, Kelly Truelove, Rael Dornfest,
Lucas Gonze & Madeline Schnapp
0-596-00185-1, 289 pages, $495.00

"2001 P2P Networking Overview:" Ten Key Conclusions:

Executive Summary:

The first chapter is online at:

Common misconceptions about P2P

From the authors of O'Reilly's "2001 P2P Networking Overview: The
Emergent P2P Platform of Presence, Identity, and Edge Resources"

P2P = 100% Decentralization with no Guiding Intelligence
"A common misconception," says Dougherty "is that P2P presents a binary
choice between centralization and decentralization. It's rare that a
purely decentralized system is the right design choice. P2P means being
able to chose the appropriate balance between centralization and
decentralization--decentralizing those aspects of a system that can be
better handled at the edges of the network. Most P2P systems are in
fact 'impure,' relying on a central server or one or more 'super peers'
to bootstrap connectivity or resource identification."

P2P = Napster and Napster is now history
Because of all the press that Napster has garnered in the past year,
many people equate P2P with Napster, and intellectual property or
piracy issues. While not as newsworthy or sexy as consumer file-sharing
P2P applications, the enterprise P2P applications have received 69% of
the funding, and will continue to attract most of the investment
interest, with collaboration (specifically Groove) and distributed
computation accounting for 61% of those enterprise P2P application
dollars. "P2P technology is more than file sharing, and P2P file
sharing is more than Napster," says Kelly Truelove, one of the report's

P2P = Hot Air
"Pundits suggest that if peer-to-peer is neither a technology or a
business model, then it must just be hot air," says Shirky. "There is,
however a third possibility besides 'technology' and 'business.' The
third way is simply this: Peer-to-peer is an idea. Put another way,
peer-to-peer is a related group of ideas about network architecture,
ideas about how to achieve better integration between the Internet and
the personal computer--the two computing revolutions of the last 15
years. These may be sloppy ideas, ideas that don't describe a
technology or a business model, but they are big ideas, and they are
also good ideas. The world's Net-connected PCs host, both individually
and in aggregate, an astonishing amount of power--computing power,
collaborative power, communicative power."

P2P = File Sharing
"P2P is much more than simply file sharing. It includes distributed
computation--the ability to execute programs on remote PCs;
collaboration--the ability to interact and share information in
real-time; and instant messaging--the ability to initiate direct
communication with a person you know," explains Dougherty.

P2P = Bleeding Edge Vaporware
Another common misconception is that P2P is a completely new concept.
Decentralization was an architectural principle of the Internet itself,
although over the past ten years or so, that has changed significantly.
"File-sharing systems are nothing new," says Truelove. "File servers on
local area networks, FTP servers, and Web sites offering downloads all
pre-date Napster and it's kin.

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