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P2P Research Report Strips the Hype from Peer-to-Peer

November 7, 2001

Sebastopol, CA--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

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 coauthors.

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.

Online Resources:

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

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