The Hidden Cost of Peer to Peer Networks

You may have probably heard people saying they have a “network” because all their computers in the office or home are connected to the Internet.

Be that as it may, the term “network” in this case does not reflect the true nature of this particular setup. To say you have a network just because your computers are connected to the Internet is like saying your car is a truck because it has wheels, an engine and room for some cargo. Sure, you can try stuffing a living room’s worth of furniture in your car, but you will surely encounter problems almost immediately.

Clearly: just like a car isn’t designed to transport big loads of furniture, Peer-to-Peer networks by definition are highly inefficient setups for offices -even small ones.

So, what is a Peer-to-Peer network? IT

Most of us have used a Peer-to-Peer network at some point in our lives. Whenever you access a computer over the internet to download a file, or the printer in the next cubicle to print a color presentation, you are using a “peer” device that’s connected somehow through some type of network. Peer-to-Peer (or “P2P”) refers mostly to how you connect to another device on a network. Remember Napster or Kazaa? Those were clear examples of large, internet-based P2P networks. Users could -via software in their computers- establish a direct connection and share files via Internet to another computer anywhere in the world.

On paper this may sound like a great idea, but in reality its benefits are not great. While music and video lovers adored -and media companies hated- it, P2P networks are in fact an extremely poor choice for office environments.

Imagine this: 1. Your office has a P2P network, and 2. You have a huge presentation coming up and have spent a full week working on your Power Point. You now need input from co-workers in order to finalize it. How can you share this file with them so they can add their changes and return it to you? Since you have a P2P network, your options range from “plain inefficient” all the way to “very dangerous”:

a. Ask your IT guy to “share” a folder on your computer so others may access it;

b. Email the file to others and then engage in multiple “sends and receives” until it’s done (or you give up in frustration);

c. Use some kind of media storage (CD, DVD, flash memory) and physically hand a copy to everyone involved…and then retrieve it.

At a glance you might think there is nothing wrong with these options. However, none is efficient or secure, nor will it prevent human error. Let’s dissect them further.

File sharing:

Sharing a folder in a computer is in and of itself a bad idea. Anytime you “share” something you become highly vulnerable to all sorts of virus attacks.

Therefore, by attempting to solve one problem you are now creating an entire set of new ones. Remember that the main task of any virus is to replicate itself and inflict damage. Perhaps you have an antivirus, but how sure are you that it’s up-to-date? If you have a P2P network, chances are your IT infrastructure is not well maintained and your protection software is outdated and vulnerable to attack.

If the threat of virus infestation won’t stop you from “sharing,” this probably will. In order to access a file on another computer, you need two things:

1. A direct (physical) connection to the device

2. A user name and password to access the “shared” resource

In other words, for every shared folder you need to access in someone else’s computer, someone (i.e.: the IT person, the network administrator, etc.) has to create and share permissions with everyone involved. Let’s say your office has five computers and each computer needs at least 3 shared folders; that’s 15 “shares.” Each time a new employee is hired you will need to include his/her user name in each of the 15 shares -or at the very least the ones that he/she needs to access. Quickly, this evolves into a nightmare that haunts many a business owner or office administrator. One common -yet silly- practice is to keep the same user name to avoid changing a previous employee’s name. Eventually you end up with Joshua working under Maria’s user name, and Emily working under Bob’s.

E-mail sharing:

For offices without real networks, e-mail sharing is undoubtedly the most common practice of all options.

Let’s say you have a 30 MB (megabytes) file -not an unlikely scenario given the complexity of some video and graphic files- you wish to share with your colleagues. Since your P2P network relies on a third party email provider like Gmail, Hotmail, or AOL, your email has to travel all the way to their email server somewhere in Oklahoma or Timbuktu and return to a computer that is four feet from yours!

Sending a large file to anyone over the Internet is not only inefficient, but also burdensome to the system. That’s why most e-mail providers limit to 20 megabytes the maximum size of any file transferred over their email servers.

Another big problem is the handling of shared emails files. If you wish to change a file you received by email you must first save it in your computer, otherwise everything will be lost when you close it. Suppose you’ve issued 16 revisions to that file over a period of time as you’ve emailed it back and forth to your colleagues. Mistakes and omissions are bound to happen with all that back and forth (plus the attaching and reattaching), unless you create a versioning system in your computer in an attempt to keep track of the changes. By the time you are done you will have a minimum of 32 emails per person in the project!

Media Sharing At Work:

This most cumbersome option may work for those who don’t mind burning or saving files into multiple CDs, DVDs or flash drives and hand them out to every person in the team (plus collecting them all back with their feedback, reloading them in the computer, and then re-burning, re-saving and re-distributing, over and over again).

Summing Up

The hidden costs of a P2P network will negate any perceived “savings” and expose your business to a considerable waste of valuable time and manpower, not to mention loss and misplacement of data. Money and time will be wasted fixing recurrent issues that could have been avoided with a properly configured network.

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