Is peer services computing the next wave?
Every now and then the way that computer systems are built changes significantly. It moved from batch systems to online systems with the advent of minicomputers and it changed to client server systems with the advent of PC networking. This model persisted on the Internet, as browser to Web server but with a huge escalation in levels of connectivity. This model for building systems may now be about to change.
This, at least, is what Tim Negris, CEO of Equinom is arguing. Tim has produced and published a Peer Services Manifesto which claims, quite simply, that a new model for software development will emerge. If you want to read the manifesto in full, it can be downloaded from www.equinom.com. If you just want the headline ideas then read on.
According to the manifesto, "The client/server technology model, in all of its forms (including the Internet) is inappropriate for the network business model because:
a. It does not allow direct technology costs to be shared equally or proportionately between the different entities participating in a given business operation or transaction.
b. It forces the arbitrary aggregation of private information into a common database whose operator must be trusted to secure, protect, and manage it, and not to misuse it.
c. It cannot take advantage of the ever-growing processing power and storage capacity of desktop client computers."
The term 'network business model' is used by the author to refer to business activities that work through the loose association of multiple entities (people or small companies or even large ones). Interestingly enough this is the least automated set of business processes that there are - because they are inter-company rather than intra-company. These are supply chain transactions of various kinds.
The manifesto maintains that "The network business model needs a different technology model for effective automation, which includes:
- Equal or proportionate direct technology cost sharing among participants
- Owner-controlled information visibility, security, privacy and use
- Distributed workload sharing across participating systems
The manifesto then goes on to describe how emerging technologies such as Web services, grid computing and peer-to-peer capabilities are providing the foundation for a peer services architecture.
At first it seems that Negris and Equinom are simply jumping aboard the latest bandwagons and trying to hijack them - that is until the Manifesto proposes a 'Peer Services Process Model' and a 'Peer Services Data Model'. These are distinctly new ideas, to me at least.
The Peer Services Process Model envisages distinct 'peer processes' on a Peer grid registering what they can do with the grid's operator and then seeking complementary services in order to carry out business processes. Peer processes can thus find and consume services and also offer services themselves. This may sound odd until you realize that this is the way, for example, that open outcry markets work and except that it is people rather than software that makes it happen.
The Peer Services Data Model envisages data being primarily private with the exception of the data that is required to be used collectively. This is decidedly unlike database as we know it, although it does accurately reflect the data privacy interests of individual (people or companies) in a shared environment.
Naturally, Equinom has an axe to grind. It was formed to build and realize a 'Peer Services Architecture' and it intends to bring some form of development software to market to capitalize on the direction it believes the IT world will now inevitably take.
Until we see the technology, it is going to be difficult to know how this vision stands up. Equinom is promising to give its software away to some carefully selected organizations - a few selected trade associations, schools and possibly law enforcement agencies. Negris claims that many such organizations have opportunities to build useful applications using Peer Services and so Equinom intends to seed the market.
But Equinom is not an Open Source operation and for most companies the technology will have a cost.
From Equinom's point of view the applications built using its technology are destined to be inexpensive both to deploy and to run. After all, they will be running mostly on the over-configured desktop computers across broadband connections and the cost of any application will be shared amongst its multiple users.
For me the emergence of a respectable peer-to-peer software movement is a little bit of a surprise. When Napster first appeared and glowed like a shooting star, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea of peer-to-peer systems. But nobody stepped up to provide the peer-to-peer idea with technical respectability. This has now changed.
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