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The News – 08/08/01


IBM Legitimizes P2P


IBM is investing $4 billion to build 50 computer server farms around the world to try to turn computing into a utility like electricity or water. Based on the peer-to-peer (P2P) computing concept variously known as grid computing, distributed computing, or hive computing, IBM will allow users to purchase supercomputer-grade computing power that is produced by combining the resources of dozens or hundreds of relatively inexpensive servers. IBM will use an Open Source distributed computing system from Globus, a cooperative effort involving several universities, NASA, and the Argonne National Laboratory.

To say that this validates the hive computing approach is an understatement. There are various dot-com startups trying to develop the hive computing market, including DataSynapse, Parabon, Distributed.net, and United Devices. Many have found it tough sledding. Two of the most publicized early entrants, Popular Power and Process Tree, closed their doors earlier this year. These and other hive computing companies are listed in the P2P for Business Directory.

The target market for hive computing currently includes companies with large computing needs – companies that otherwise would need to buy expensive supercomputer time. These include companies in the life sciences (gene sequencing, protein folding, cancer cures), oil exploration (crunching massive geological databases), meteorology (climate prediction), automotive and aerospace (crash simulation, virtual wind tunnel tests, design rendering), entertainment (animation, special effects), and financial (derivatives pricing) markets. However, if hive computing is legitimized and becomes affordable, the market could open to pretty much any large enterprise and used for such mundane tasks as nightly database updates or payroll processing. There’s more on hive computing in my white paper, The Buzz About Hive Computing.

Of course, there are also many darker applications, such as nuclear weapons design and encryption-breaking. Indeed, any privacy or security scheme that depends on bad guys not having access to tremendous computer resources should be rethought. In fact, an early demonstration of the power of hive computing was the 1997 breaking of RSA’s 56-bit encryption key by a network of thousands of computers linked over the Internet.

Also, not every large computing application will be appropriate for a hive computing solution. Any application requiring real time response or tremendous coordination between resources will not benefit from loosely federated hive clusters due to the amount of network latency (delay from transporting information across the Internet or other network) inherent in such an approach.

What the IBM announcement means is that the idea of computing as a service has really arrived. IBM’s $4 billion investment is one more step toward a future where computing is no longer a place you go (to sit in front of a keyboard and monitor) but rather a service of the environment around you. In this case, supercomputing has become not a tremendously expensive investment in hardware, air conditioning and raised-floor data centers, but something you buy by the piece. Businesses with large investments in computing capacity and any business with CPU-hungry applications should definitely explore this new trend. Even companies without accelerating computing needs should be aware of hive computing. Be on the wave or under it™.

Wall Street Journal (requires subscription)

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept. Correction: I'll be speaking at the Minnesota Entrepreneurs Club pre-meeting workshop at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 14th in St. Paul, MN, not the 7th as previously announced. The meeting is at the Minnesota Business Academy. My topic is “Will You Have to Have It? What You Need to Know About Future Tech and Your Business.”

    Also, the P2P for Business Directory has been listed on the University of Tennessee's P2P Information Page.
    MN Entrepreneurs
  • VenueMaitred Networks People: Alert SNS Reader John Gehring sent along information about a new service that will debut at the Wireless World 2001 trade show in New York in late September. VenueMaitred (stupid name alert: Wouldn’t VenueMaitreD be better?) is a suite of wireless information tools for conference-goers and other travelers. It uses the 802.11b protocol, AKA WiFi™ or WLAN, to connect users to information and services at hotels and conference venues. But of more interest is the possibility of enhancing business networking and even, dare we say it, dating. Cruising a tradeshow and cruising for a simpatico companion are very similar. Both are terribly random, except at least prospects at trade shows have business cards. The chairman of Wireless World 2001 puts it this way: “I could see Hooters or college bars setting up a wireless LAN, or cruise ships. If people had more pocket PCs and every bar has a wireless LAN, you could be walking down the street and you might pass a bar, search the profiles of the people there. You see that there are 30 girls with certain vital statistics, all looking for someone like you. It is amazing, the implications it could have.” There’s no need to point out that Wireless World Chairman Jonathan Sarno is a guy, is there?
    mCommerce Times
  • More Signs the Patent Office Doesn’t Get It: Alert SNS Reader Andrew Hargreave sends along news that antivirus vendor McAfee was recently granted a patent on software as a service. The patent covers both the business and technology models used to deliver software services through a browser. CEO Srivats Sampath gloated, “You either work with us, or you work around this patent.” Here we go again. There have been a number of extremely broad patents granted since the early ‘90s. Quarterdeck’s patent on swapping memory and Compton NewMedia’s patent on multimedia spring to mind. More recently, Amazon got a patent on the idea of clicking once to buy a book. In general, time has cured these incredible goofs by the USPTO. We can only hope it will again.
  • Don’t Get Gatored: There’s a new, rather unsavory, ad practice becoming popular on the Web. Named for the software plug-in that started it all, gatoring means to pop up a window from a rival Web site when a user visits a competitive site. For example, users who go to 1-800-Flowers.com see a pop-up ad offering a discount at FTD.com. The culprit is the Gator plug in, which is a password and user ID management program that users download and use with their browsers. Unbeknownst to many of these users, Gator has sold keywords to advertisers and pops up ads when the user visits a related site. But the practice is not limited to Gator. Other companies such as TopText, eZula, and Microsoft all have similar technologies. Microsoft’s version, Smart Tags, was profiled in an earlier SNS. To make matters worse, it can be hard, if not impossible, to remove these obnoxious plug-ins once installed. LavaSoft makes a program called Ad-Aware that can help uproot the little buggers.


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