The Respect of Your Peers?

With Friends Like These . . .

BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES:Here are some suggestions by business consultants on how to prepare your network for the advent of P2P:
  • DECLARE A MORATORIUM until each desktop has antivirus and firewall software and your network has intrusion detection software.
  • CENTRALLY MANAGE your defenses and update virus and firewall definitions automatically and often.
  • SPECIFY THE TYPE AND SIZE of files that can be shared.
  • LIMIT P2P FILE TRANSFERS to times of low network traffic.
  • AGGRESSIVELY MONITOR network traffic with software and let everyone know you're doing it.
  • BE SPECIFIC about the consequences of rule-breaking, and follow through.

Yes, the unused processor cycles of the 100 million or so computers hanging off the Internet is a wonderful untapped resource. Yes, bizarre projects like SETI@Home (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at Home) demonstrate that unused processor time can be harnessed for the most ambitious tasks. But who owns those unused processor cycles? Apparently, the answer from the most ardent P2P enthusiasts is: The People.

Voluntary communal projects like SETI have little impact on your company. The stakes get higher as we pass through your firewall and take a peek at some of the things your employees might already be doing on your company network. Research company Computer Economics vice president of research Michael Erbschloe reports that personal activities, such as online banking, recreational Web browsing and MP3 file-swapping, can consume as much as 25 percent of a company network's capacity today.

Gartner Inc. research director Rob Batchelder puts that figure below 20 percent as a rule. Either way, monitoring or policing unauthorized Web use in a 100-person company requires the full attention of approximately one IT staffer, suggests Erbschloe.

That's today. Now let's imagine a future in which staff members swap not just music files, but also your network's data files and executables with others on a large scale. That's exactly what some segments of the P2P glee club envision-giving your employees the unfettered right to share your company data and other material with whomever they deem appropriate.

To get a feel for this mode of thinking, read any of the reports or editorials from the recent P2P Conference held by technology portal The O'Reilly Network. "You hate the IT department, and they hate you right back," writes Clay Shirky, a partner in the investment firm Accelerator Group. "The mutual enmity between the average IT department and the average end user is the key feature driving P2P adoption in the business setting."

Batchelder insists these attitudes are foreign to the for-profit segment of the P2P community-the ones who want to bring products in through your front door. P2P start-ups like Groove Networks and XDegrees have real, live business plans with cash-flow models and strategies to address enterprise security, network load management and other IT concerns. But they exist alongside people who are intent on bringing Napster clones in through your back door-and have a resonance with the public. The majority of Internet users recently surveyed by the Consumer Electronics Association said they should be able to download online content for free. And a very vocal segment of the P2P community wants to take the locks off the doors and see what happens.

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Respect of Your Peers?.

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