P2P Enables More Than Just Song Swiping

About two-years ago, an account manager at Hewlett Packard Services, received a very important document — an request-for-proposals (RFP) from Proctor & Gamble for an outsourcing project. Over the next few days the account manager assembled a team of technical architects, product specialists and project managers from all over the world.

The group worked together intensively, bringing in new experts whenever required and responded to the proposal in minute detail, in record time. The result? A $3.2 billion outsourcing deal, signed in May 2003,which could yield HP significant profits over the 10-year life of the contract.

Not a Nano Swarm

The secret of HP’s success? Swarming: a type of collaboration in which large numbers of geographically dispersed people quickly self-organize to deal with a problem or opportunity.

What’s surprising is the technology that enables swarming is peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, the same technology used for sharing cracked software and pirated music on systems like Kazaa, Gnutella or, the now infamous, Napster. For many people P2P networking is synonymous with illegal activity, but the ability to connect large numbers of people together without any centralized management is beginning to prove a hugely valuable tool in the business world as well.

“CIOs expect to get responses to RFPs very quickly,” said Craig Samuel, chief knowledge officer at HP Services. “Using peer to peer networking we can collapse the time needed to complete our proposals by as much as 60%,” he said.

While HP uses a P2P collaboration platform called Groove, developed by Groove Networks, to create “swarms,” there are number of budding vendors in this space including Lucane, an open-source groupware suite, and Kontiki, a P2P application which is backed by Jim Barksdale, Marc Andreeson and other Netscape luminaries.

Groove’s platform includes P2P file sharing, instant messaging, voice-over-IP (VoIP) and group document editing. Each user has a shared “Groovespace” on his or her computer, which contains all the documents and resources available to other team members. When any team member works on a resource, these changes are immediately reflected in the Groovespaces of all other team members who are online. The Groovespaces of any off-line team members are synchronised and updated as soon as they go back online.

Peer-to-peer networking is the key to successful swarming because swarming is all about making connections between people quickly and easily. P2P-based collaboration can do this far more effectively than more conventional collaboration software, said Samuel.