The press storm associated with the new peer-to-peer technologies undoubtedly has been met with audible yawns from skeptical IT professionals within the banking industry. "Been there, done that and using it now," they could say.

After all, file sharing through shared drives is peer-to-peer; so is e-mail, for that matter, and instant messaging.

While some new peer-to-peer applications, such as Napster, offer new paradigms for file sharing and collaborative applications over HTTP, it seems the hype associated with these applications may be better suited to revolutionizing the music industry than impacting the banking industry's bottom line. Not all peer-to-peer technologies are geared toward collaboration and file sharing; some are focused on using distributed computing to leverage idle capacity on the network, such as hard drive, RAM and CPU.

A number of companies are now in the business of selling middleware that enables any IT professional to harness idle desktop computers for parallel processing or parallel data-processing applications. The concept is simple: For applications that could take hours or days to run, this technology enables an application to be divided into many separate tasks that are distributed in parallel to a pool of existing desktop PCs.

Each PC works on a task only when the PC is completely idle, and then task results are marshaled back to the application, usually in minutes rather than hours. If a PC user returns to the computer to work, interrupted tasks automatically are rescheduled to other available PCs to guarantee completion of all tasks. These middleware platforms are designed to be easy to use and administer. Moreover, by providing radical performance benefits with improvements in application turnaround of 100 times or more, distributed computing can help transform the bottom line by defraying the cost of high- performance hardware. Additional benefits include reducing the administrative overhead of managing and maintaining long-running applications, and increasing opportunity by accelerating the decision-making process.

The need for peer computing capabilities can be seen most readily, perhaps, in applications that demand computer-intensive calculations, such as trading, risk management, predictive modeling and the like.

Three trends indicate that now is the right time for banks to implement distributed computing solutions.

First, the average PC today, more powerful than the fastest supercomputers of 10 years ago, sits idle 90% of the time. New distributed computing solutions enable this unused processing power to be harnessed. Second, dramatic increases in network bandwidth mean that the average corporate LAN is 2,000 times faster than a 56K connection. This makes it efficient to distribute tasks to individual PCs. And finally, network programming has advanced to a level where teams can create easy-to-use peer-to-peer frameworks for distributed computing. Expect to see more peer-to-peer distributed computing solutions throughout the banking industry.

It's the right way to leverage existing IT infrastructure and increase profit-making potential.

Peter Lee is co-founder and chief executive officer of New York-based DataSynapse Inc.

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