Groove teams with Microsoft for enterprise collaboration

Peer-to-peer technology got another boost from Microsoft Corp. this week.

Groove Networks Inc. in Beverly, Mass., struck a development agreement with Microsoft as part of the HailStorm technology announced Monday (see story). The deal paves the way for Groove users to invite others who are off-line to take part in a collaborative session through Microsoft's instant messaging tool, MSN Messenger.

HailStorm, which is based on part of Microsoft's .Net computing services initiative, lets Windows users open and run many applications over the Internet through a single sign-on. It stores personal information and preferences, so end users can more easily make purchases through San Jose-based eBay Inc. or buy tickets from Bellevue, Wash-based Expedia Inc., for example.

In the future, said Groove spokesman Richard Eckel, users will be able to use central database information in a Groove session and put new or updated information from the session back into the database. Instead of being strictly peer-to-peer, Groove will allow end users to access their companies' central servers.

Peer-to-peer technology essentially means that users keep all information on their desktops and the information is distributed directly from desktop to desktop, instead of through a server. Groove does this in real time, with multiple applications running on different panes in one window.

Peer-to-peer technology lets users create workspaces at the edges of the network, without relying on central administration or centralized servers. Instead of creating a database application for a few people, end users can start their own Groove sessions to collaborate.

That eliminates the need to replicate those applications across the enterprise when only a small percentage of employees need to access them, said Robert Mahowald, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. This reduces network traffic and frees up some storage space on the server.

However, much of a company's critical information is in centralized databases, not at the edges of the network where Groove resides. Customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other line-of-business software are currently outside of Groove's domain.

Soon, that will change, Eckel said. Groove will be able to take data from, for example, an ERP application in a central database and put new information resulting from a collaborative Groove session back on the central server. Other users could then access that data.

Several real-time collaborative applications already do this inside the enterprise, using the client/server model.

Companies such as Viador Inc. in Mountain View, Calif.; Parlano Inc. in Chicago; and Blue Barn Interactive in New York sell portal applications that search databases and pull out data for smaller group collaborative applications, as well as posting companywide intranet applications. Lotus Development Corp.'s Sametime and QuickPlace can also do this.

Viador can cull structured and unstructured data, while Parlano can work with partners or customers outside the company firewall. There are also other peer-to-peer competitors that offer similar services.

Since 1997, Novient Inc. in Atlanta has been working on collaborative software delivered through an application service provider model, which is built for large enterprise use, according to an IDC report released earlier this month.

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