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Implementation That Tells All Points Wireless: 'Let's All Get Along' : Page 3

Severely limited in their local storage capacity, and often running operating systems that don't mesh neatly with client/server apps, mobile wireless devices are a blessing for traveling workers but a nuisance for developers.


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Problems in Wireless P2P Development
While these platforms are designed to solve some implementation problems, wireless P2P developers still face their own unique set of challenges.

Adapting the client.
Developers may need to find a way to make the richer "peer experience" of a P2P-enabled device work for their particular situation, even though they face significant limitations in memory, storage, and processing power. For some devices, a fat, highly functional P2P client will be needed, while for others, any client that supports P2P connections will do, notes Matt Page, manager of device platforms for Groove Networks. "Developers must consider if there exists the need for a fat client experience based on the target platform," Page notes. "For example, smart phone users will likely never use that device to edit large Excel models."

Synchronization issues.
Another problem in wireless P2P development is determining how, when, and under what circumstances developers want to have peer devices synch up with central data stores. Developers will also need to decide how and when users will synch up with each other, which users they will access, and under what circumstances. P2P goups like the ones created by Groove can stay synchronized with each other, even if they're not connected to the central IT infrastructure. In other cases, it may be better to synch through a central data store. Also, given the variation in wireless networks from place to place, developers may want to give users the option of shutting off P2P synching or even data exchange depending on how good the wireless network coverage is in their location, Page pointed out.



Securing the data.
Still another problem in wireless P2P environments is creating a secure environment for data sharing. This topic is complex enough to call for its own full-length article, but in brief, here are just a few of the more critical issues to be addressed.

  • In peer-to-peer networks, edge-of-network devices wind up being rich sources as well as receivers of information. Operating system or application security holes, which might only have exposed a single user's PC to compromise, may now offer intruders access to an entire network. Staying on top of security bugs in common mobile software apps and platforms is crucial.
  • Extending and revoking permission to access the network is a critical element in controlling mobile device P2P connectivity. If a user loses their device, your network admin must be able to revoke permission to access staff and corporate data.
  • In the case of an 802.11b P2P area network, extra security measures are appropriate. Particularly if rich user data is being shared P2P across such a network in addition to corporate info, developers and other IT staff must take care to protect against unauthorized users sniffing information off of the wireless network, noted Greg Bolcer, chief technology officer of Endeavors.

    To push information across the airwaves, enterprises will have to use a gateway device that speaks the protocol of the receiving network. That device can be leased from an external vendor or run on premise by a company, but either way, a gateway is needed. As data is transmitted from a corporate IP network across a gateway, however, there's a moment when all of the data is exposed. Some enterprises are comfortable with this and some aren't; ultimately, it may be your job to be aware of and address this problem.

    Bandwidth/Resource Consumption.
    Finally, bandwidth consumption between peer nodes is also a concern. In a peer-to-peer environment, developers need to plan their data distribution architecture not only to squeeze corporate information across wireless connections to devices, but also to permit information to flow from device to device.

    Take the experience of Cleveland, Ohio-based wireless solutions developer WISP Inc., which has been testing BadBlue's zShare with a financial services client. Unaware of any potential problems, one of the end-user testers attempted to open a 35MB Excel spreadsheet that resided on another user's system. The move, while legal on the BadBlue system, brought computing to a halt for both parties. "The machine [that the spreadsheet] was hosted on went into all sorts of fits doing what it had to do so it could share the information," says Martin Hasemann, network engineer with WISP.

    If developers bear these concerns in mind as they approach P2P, however, they may find that P2P technology is the killer app that makes the effort of connecting mobile devices worthwhile. After all, ultimately, if users have the information they want, the developers have done their job well. The faster and more conveniently they can get it, the better.



    Anne Zieger is a widely published analyst, writer, and speaker whose work has appeared in many of the tech industry's leading journals, including IBM's DeveloperWorks (where this story first appeared), Information Week, Byte.com, InfoWorld, CIO, and Internet World. Zieger was chief analyst and founder of PeerToPeerCentral.com, a leading analyst firm researching how peer-to-peer technology will impact enterprises.
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