Long before Ray Ozzie released his highly anticipated peer-to-peer (P2P) instant messaging and collaboration tool, Groove, last April, business writers were predicting it would revolutionize the workplace. Groove will connect people with people (not just documents) in real time, they said, all without any help from IT.

But can Ozzie effectively compete against his own legacy? His most famous invention, Notes, has already inspired two new P2P products from Lotus. Lotus Sametime, like Groove, offers users instant messaging and real-time object sharing. QuickPlace, Lotus' Web-based collaboration tool, lets users manage projects, and check documents in-and-out from a central, secure location.

Marketing execs at Lotus and Groove are still parsing the term, but peer-to-peer is a category that embraces Sametime and QuickPlace as readily as it does Groove. In an October 2000 brief, Forrester Research defined P2P products as those that allow "client systems to communicate directly with other clients, with or without a single administrative server to coordinate and manage interactions between peers."

While Sametime and QuickPlace are server-based, Groove bypasses servers and firewalls altogether: Its peer-authenticated members work in shared spaces, where their privacy is automatically protected with 192-bit encryption. Members must rely on Groove Network's presence and relay servers, however, to see if other users are online, and to leave messages for those who aren't.

Simon Yates, an analyst at Forrester, is intrigued by Groove's (mostly) serverless architecture, but says "it relies on users being the driving force behind adoption." End users can easily install Groove themselves, and set up their own, password-protected accounts, without turning to IT for assistance.

While Groove makes collaboration more efficient for users, it also makes IT administrative control difficult, if not impossible. "Certainly the person-to-person collaboration apps like Groove will be the biggest drain on bandwidth, because users will be sharing multimedia files over a live link both within and beyond the firewall," Yates said.

Workers, meanwhile, may have a hard time taking care of themselves. "I just see more opportunities for things to go wrong in a client-based system," said Chris Edwards, vice president of information systems at Group Dekko, a manufacturing organization based in Kendallville, Ind. "Server-based P2P, on the other hand, helps lower support costs, because we don't have to visit multiple desktops when there's a problem."

P2P is coming quickly to the enterprise. But these links will ensure you have all the answers at your next meeting with the boss:

http://www.itworld.com/AppDev/4088/CWD010416STO59659. "Today, the pain of using [peer-to-peer applications] outweighs the gain," Gartner analyst John Pescatore, tells Computerworld. Even so, GlaxoSmithKline has purchased 10,000 Groove seats for its employees worldwide.

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/13/technology/13BURT.html. A third of corporations will be using P2P by 2003, according to Gartner. But another analyst tells the Times the technology is "not quite ready for prime time."

http://iwsun4.infoworld.com/articles/tc/xml/01/07/09/010709tcp2ph2h.xml. Infoworld likes Groove very much. "Despite server and privacy issues, Groove is too powerful to shelve," writes Tom Yager his review of Version 1.0.

http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20010618S0005. Sametime Everyplace is Lotus' newest, wireless IM application. Users of WAP and SMS devices send instant messages to desktops and other mobile devices.

Mark Baard is a contributing writer in Milton, Mass.

This was first published in July 2001

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