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IBM doesn't like peer-to-peer

Some observers are saying that IBM doesn't offer a peer-to-peer technolology to compete with Groove, which Microsoft recently acquired. There's a reason.

The April 18 issue of BusinessWeek (with the cover story "IBM -- Beyond Blue") included a piece on the battle between IBM and Microsoft for control of the collaboration software market. In that article, BusinessWeek wrote that "IBM doesn't offer a rival technology" to the peer-to-peer technology Microsoft now owned, via its acquisition of Ray Ozzie's company, Groove, which "lets workers at different companies easily collaborate on projects through corporate firewalls."

IBM doesn't deny this. Sitting down with the editors of SearchDomino recently, Ambuj Goyal, general manager of the Lotus software division, did not mince words. "We do not like peer-to-peer," he said.

When asked why, Goyal said, "Frankly, peer-to-peer is not a business value proposition. The peer-to-peer proposition says I can exchange documents between two companies without going through the server. But the company has no clue as to what type of information is being exchanged. The real issue is whether two companies can share documents, securely, not whether the technology is router or router plus server."

Earlier, I had spoken to David Marshak, IBM's senior product manager for collaboration. Marshak also believes that a peer-to-peer buddy list model is the wrong collaboration model for business. More appropriate for business, he said, is a requester/resource model, since in that environment, you ask questions and seek information from others (on a role basis) who do not necessarily ask anything from you.

Still, there are those who are intrigued by the possibility of somehow incorporating P2P into Notes. A recent SearchDomino article on Microsoft's acquisition of Groove contained a discussion on the peer-to-peer model of corporate collaboration. In it, Julian Robichaux, author of the site, said, "The Groove product seems to be all about decentralizing the file sharing and collaborative process. I don't know how the IT departments that have been centralizing themselves for the past 20 years are going to react. I have a feeling it will take a lot of convincing, especially when you think about the risks that are involved with sharing files across workstations like that (with potentially no ability to monitor the access or back up the files on a regular basis). If we find out that IT departments are okay with the peer-to-peer model, we might see some enterprising Notes developers start to push Notes in that direction. Since Java and HTTP are built in to the Notes client, you might be able to do that right now -- build some sort of "listener" interface into Notes, and share it with your team."

John Vaughan, a Notes developer in Tampa, Fla., and the author of the story just quoted from, also thinks that IBM would be offering the best of all worlds if it could bolt a good peer-to-peer process into Notes or Workplace. "If they could do that in a really smart way, they would be serving the needs of organizations by serving the needs of individuals." In short, he says, they would be "competing squarely against Microsoft in a place where Microsoft has always had the advantage."

Note: Shortly after SearchDomino published this story, Alan Lepofsky of IBM pointed out that Colligo Networks, Inc., in Vancouver, British Columbia, offers a Lotus Notes plug-in that enables mobile teams working in any location to create server-free, peer-to-peer wireless networks on which they share data and communicate electronically. The company's software can replicate Lotus Notes databases directly, client-to-client, without having to connect to a Domino server. You can read more about the latest version of the product, called Workgroup Edition 4.0, by clicking here.

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