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Applying Some Peer Pressure : Page 3

Forget file sharing. The industry is missing the true value of peer-to-peer technology and developers and consumers are the ones who are paying the price.




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New Models of Security
P2P can have a profound benefit in security as well. I am not going to open the "security through obscurity" debate here, but perhaps P2P provides a different perspective on security that is worth thinking about. In a decentralized peer network, as opposed to a centralized network, the hacker's bounty can be distributed across many nodes, and perhaps moved dynamically as a compromise occurs. It is much harder to rob ten banks than it is to rob only one bank, and the attractiveness of any specific node in the network can be significantly diminished if it holds only a small take. In addition, a hacker's risk of getting caught increases greatly as the time exposed increases; requiring several levels of compromise in a peer network nearly guarantees a longer exposure time.
If the context of software development shifts away from that of the underlying operating system to that of distributed objects in a peer network of nodes with any operating system, the OS becomes a widget.
In addition, peer networks have the unique characteristic of being able to completely drop nodes off without necessarily crippling the collective network's capabilities. P2P introduces a wonderful new option: simply shutting a node down on a hacker. That is easier said than done, but it does not change the fact that there is significant promise that P2P provides for innovation in security.

Eliminating the OS
Operating systems desperately need to be "widgetized" and eliminated as a dominating influence in development. Sure, there should be OS choice, but a choice of implementation from a set of base, low-level functionality is a completely different idea from the operating system decisions we face today. The choice of operating system affects nearly every part of a software development company: it affects costs, the skill-sets and employees needed, the software you can run, the component architecture, administration, the hardware you can use, etc. In addition, it is a never-ending, politically charged issue.

The relegation of applications to the underlying operating system is a barrier impeding technology progress in the software arena. P2P can also play a big role in alleviating this problem. If the context of software development shifts away from that of the underlying operating system to that of distributed objects in a peer network of nodes with any operating system, the OS becomes a widget, and a relatively unimportant and swappable part of the picture. If this happened, it would free the focus of software architecture to that which is best for technological progress, not what is best for the operating system.

Expecting Industry Resistance
A couple of the benefits described above alluded to probable resistance to P2P. P2P has been aptly called a disruptive technology. As with anything disruptive, there are a few apple carts bound to be tipped over. For instance, any technology that erases physical hardware boundaries, allowing business to leverage existing computing resources rather than being required to purchase new resources won't be popular with hardware manufacturers. Technology that erases operating system influence over application architecture will certainly be fought tooth and nail by those companies whose operating system controls their revenue streams.

A reinvention of server architecture likely presents a painful shift to middleware vendors as well. But I would offer this thought: file-sharing is not only a prototype of P2P technology, but a prototype of the likely industry response to nearly any use of P2P. There are basically two responses to a disruptive technology: either protect the status quo at the expense of technological progress and withhold the benefits from both developers and consumers in the process; or embrace progress, and through ingenuity create successful new revenue models. It should not be surprising if those unwilling to reinvent themselves as technological progress demands will resist further advances in P2P technology.

P2P holds much promise, but we developers must open our minds to recognize where the real value of P2P lies. And so as my "Blade Runner" CD ends, the haunting voice of a dying Roy Batty wearily proclaims, "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe." Perhaps as an industry we also will choose to see changes we wouldn't have otherwise believed; and perhaps these changes lie in the promise of P2P.

Brad O'Hearne is an Irvine, CA-based independent developer, Java instructor, and Sun Certified Java Programmer, with extensive enterprise and Web development experience. Reach him at brado@neurofire.com.
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