by September 12, 2002 0 comments



The P2P space can be classified into three categories based on the anatomy of
the network and application. These are collaborative computing, instant
messaging and affinity groups. Collaborative computing is also referred to as
distributed computing and its biggest and most successful example is the Seti@Home
project. Another is Fight AIDS at Home from Entropia. We all know about instant
messaging and regularly use MSN, ICQ and Yahoo instant messengers. The hottest
P2P applications in use today are the affinity groups like (erstwhile) Napster,
Kaaza and Gnutella file-sharing networks. They are extensively used for music,
movies and software sharing. Then there are the less well known
workspace-sharing applications, like Groove, which also fall in this
category. 

Kazaa is one of the hottest P2P apps in use today

While on one side, P2P technology puts unused and idle resources to
constructive use, problems abound about the usage of such a network to trade
software and multimedia content. In a corporate environment, the problem with
implementing it is the lack of central control. Plus, there can also be security
issues when individual desktops directly connect to each other. 

These debates apart, let us look at the P2P applications as they exist now.

Collaboration 
Seti@Home

Though the founding document for SETI was first published in 1959, it was
not until the Internet got established as an effective medium to connect
computers, that the Seti@ Home project came into being. Again, though the idea
of using idle computing power of individual computers around the globe
originated in 1996, it wasn’t until May 1999, that the software actually
started its work. As of this day, it has around 3.8 million users and they have
contributed a total of a little over a million years of CPU time to the project!
The SETI@ home is yet to find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. But
the enormous amount of computing power expended on the project would not have
been possible had it not been for this collaborative computing effort.

You, too, can participate in the effort. The only thing you have to do is to
install the client (available for different platforms and OSs) and run it. The
client automatically downloads data units, processes them in the idle CPU time
and sends them back to the project base at University of Berkeley.

Fight Aids at Home
A similar distributed-computing project is Fight AIDS at Home (FAAH) from
Entropia. Entropia is also running two more grid-computing projects–SaferMarkets
and a non-profit research–but FAAH accounts for 80 percent of the whole grid.
The FAAH project has a little over 50,000 machines running across the globe.

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search
Another similar project is The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS).
This runs computations for one of the most coveted finds in all of
mathematics–a new Mersenne prime number. The task is again very CPU intensive.
This computing community was also created by Entropia in 1997 and is hosted by
the Internet PrimeNet Server (Entropia’s). The total computing power of the
grid is currently equivalent to 69 of Cray’s most powerful T932
supercomputers! These distributed computing clients are also available for
download and work in a similar manner as Seti@Home.

Messaging
Instant messaging is another widely used P2P application–MSN, AOL, ICQ,
Yahoo and loads of others–that we use everyday. These messengers work in
coordination with a central server. The server is, however, used to perform the
task of authenticating a client to the network, storing buddy lists and making
the first contact between two clients. Once a connection is established, two
client applications talk to each other directly, though you also have the option
of using the server to send messages. Instant messengers come with a lot of
features that we overlook. We think of them as only text-messaging windows.

Take MSN Messenger. With it you can do message conferencing, application
sharing, white boarding, transfer of files. It even allows you to make phone
calls. Application sharing allows both interacting parties to work on an appli-
cation together. White-boarding works like a virtual white board on which the
interacting parties can write or draw.

There are also private messengers. They consist of a server and a client part
that a corporate can buy and install for its network. This can then be used for
similar functions as public messengers within the organization. These private
messengers offer better security and encryption features, apart from local
manageability.

Affinity groups
Popularized by file-swapping programs, this area of P2P consists of lots of
applications, the most popular being Kazaa and Napster. Though propounded by
their creators as ‘efficient usage of your available bandwidth’, these are
sadly turning out to be platforms for illegal file swapping. Moreover, they are
becoming bandwidth hogs. Music companies have been on the forefront of the
trying to close these file-sharing networks down. The latest in the field to
dissuade users from illegitimate music file downloads is a company by the name
of OverPeer. They upload dummy music files to these P2P networks (files with a
chord or chorus in a loop instead of a track).

But fileswapping is not what affinity groups are all about. Collaborative
groups (also called P2P Groupware) can be public or private corporate groups
that work on a common application. Two such well-known applications are
Microsoft NetMeeting and Groove. These are what are called workspace-sharing
applications. In NetMeeting, for instance, individual users can host conferences
and invite others to them. Users in a conference can share their applications.
Other users get windows that have visualizations of the shared applications.
Groove uses a slightly different approach. Here you have workspaces that are
created and shared among participating users. It uses a client-server mechanism
to find peers and initiate services. After that, all communication happens
directly between the participating peers.

Ashish Sharma

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