The growth of peer-to-peer (P2P) applications will mean a major transformation for the Internet, and a decline in the relative importance of centralised Web applications.
By 2004, most large corporations and enterprises will have carried out large-scale deployments of P2P technologies -- taking advantage of its ability to let users communicate and swap data spontaneously. This is the feeling of research group Gartner, which forecasts in a new research note that the Napster model of letting employees interact directly with each other will increasingly appeal to businesses.
Gartner believes the Web will soon change from today's server-centric model into a "Supranet" -- an even more decentralised structure than today's Internet. "We are moving towards a 'many-to-many' model, where interactions are becoming more direct between individual users", says Gartner. "This evolution will be one of the elements that will transform the Internet into the Supranet."
Gartner defines the Supranet as a ubiquitous network infrastructure linking together all types of electronic devices -- including PCs, personal digital assistants and next-generation mobile phones -- and the physical world.
Many big firms, such as Intel and Microsoft, have already recognised that P2P will be central to the next generation of Internet applications. With the media exposure of more controversial P2P technologies such as Napster, there is a growing belief that a sea change in computing is just round the corner. "I don't think there's any space that will deal with the Internet that will not be affected by peer-to-peer or distributed computing architectures," Barry Bellue, president chief executive of Thinkstream, a startup that has developed a distributed search technology, told CNET News.com earlier this year.
While its ability to let users send information and files directly between each other has worried some, such as the music and movie industries, Gartner is encouraging investors to look at P2P's potential. "We view P2P technology as important in changing the way businesses and individuals communicate, collaborate and distribute information via the Internet," say Garner analysts R.Batchelder, S.Hayward and A. Roussel in the research note.
Gartner is particularly interested in companies who are working on ways of integrating P2P into existing IT setups. One such start-up is Groove Networks -- founded by Ray Ozzie, the creater of Lotus Notes. "Groove is developing tools and infrastructure to allow groups of co-workers to share applications and documents, and communicate in real time or asynchronously, using text or voice methods -- regardless of time or connection methods," explains Gartner.
Other companies working at the forefront of P2P that Gartner tips as having potential include Endeavors Technology -- which is developing secure P2P technology that will work on a wide range of different devices, Autonomy, Jabber -- which is working on an instant messaging service -- and Sun Microsystems.
One British P2P start-up is looking to take on the might of the new Napster. Wippit, run by Paul Myers, formally of UK ISP X-Stream, is planning to launch a legal MP3 sharing service later this year. Myers is convinced that record labels will use Wippit as a profitable way of distributing their content across the Web using peer-to-peer architecture.
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