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P2P – It’s not all about copyright infringement

Alex Christie

14 May 2009

Peer to peer (p2p) networks have been in the news again recently with the founders of the PirateBay (a peer to peer file sharing site) receiving jail sentences for their roles in contributing to copyright infringement.

It is important to note however that P2P networking is not all about file sharing and copyright infringement.  There are many uses of P2P networking that have huge social benefits such as finding cures for diseases.

So what is P2P and how does it differ from traditional network models?

200px-server-based-networksvg1In traditional networks, client computers talk to each other via a central hub (server).  If one of the client machines fail, then the rest of the network is unaffected,  however if the server fails, then the whole network fails.

200px-p2p-networksvg1Having a central server also limits how quickly these types of network can scale as more servers are required when additional client machines are added.

Peer to peer networks on the other hand have no central server which means there is no single point of failure, and one machine failing has little impact on the rest of the network. 

They can also grow very quickly making them ideal for computational intesive tasks, such as the work being carried out by groups such as Folding @ Home which use personal computers in peoples homes to find cures for disease.



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