Bartering used to be how people acquired goods and services. Then came money with which you could buy using gold and then printed notes. Now on the web, peer to peer (P2P) online file storage may be bringing old-fashioned trading back: with the Wuala service for instance, if you make space available on your hard drive for storing other people’s files, they’ll do the same for you. That means you don’t pay any money, already a strong incentive for using a peer to peer, rather than a centralized solution. But that’s not the only reason.
What is Peer to Peer Networking?
Before we dive into the detail, a word or two on peer to peer networking in general may be helpful. Most of us are familiar with the client-server type of interaction, because every time we access a web site, this describes what’s happening. Our PCs with their web browsers are the clients asking for information: the computer hosting the web site is the server, serving up different pages according to client requests. Here the roles are clear and they cannot be interchanged (or not without some serious software upgrades). Peer to peer networking takes a different approach. In this case, the computers are at the same level, and able to both send and receive data with all the others in the same way.
The More the Merrier (and Faster)
Peer to peer networks let you upload files for storage on other people’s PCs, and vice versa. When you do this, your file is encrypted, divided into separate chunks and then transmitted to multiple computers so that redundant copies of your data are stored. This means that when you want your file back, 1) you don’t have to wait for a particular computer to be online, and 2) downloads may well accelerate because the separate parts of your file are downloaded in parallel from different sources.
Protection against Computer Failure
Cloud solutions benefit from resilience because files are copied to multiple locations: a single server failure doesn’t affect the availability of your data. Peer to peer online file storage is the same. Both file storage and file retrieval can be reorganized in the case of one computer or node not functioning. On the other hand, suitable precautions need to be taken in terms of security. When every PC node on the network can act as a server as well as a client, this multiplies the potential vulnerabilities to remote attacks. Malicious nodes might just possibly disrupt network operation by interfering with the transmission of blocks of data.
Providers Following a Market Trend
When you also see some of the better known online storage providers starting to provide peer to peer solutions, it’s a sign that P2P is heading towards mainstream market acceptance. Besides Wuala (which also offers a paying conventional cloud server solution), CrashPlan is another provider offering a free service to back up data to the PC of a friend or member of the family, and vice versa. How much peer to peer online file storage will then appeal to business users is another question. Storing confidential customer data on someone else’s PC, even when encrypted, isn’t the same as storing MP3 files: in some cases there may be regulatory restrictions. However, consumer interest is strong enough for competing solutions to now be available and free of charge to the end-users.