Peer-to-peer networks: What are they and what role do they play?

We explain what P2P networks are and how to determine whether they're right for your organisation

Networks

The direct connection between two or more devices, or terminals, such as mobile devices, computers or even printers, is referred to as peer-to-peer (P2P). These connections are P2P if they do not need re-routing via a separate server, with data flowing uninterrupted between the two devices.

But, as with anything, there are benefits and drawbacks to deploying P2P networks, and these must be taken into consideration before you dive into adopting the serverless model.

What are the benefits of a P2P network?

Among the benefits of P2P is the tendency to experience reduced latency against a client-server network, as files are shared and transferred directly between sender and recipient without any 'middle man'. There's also no need to take into account the strain on a server, which makes it an ideal environment to share massive file sizes or folders between devices free of the fear of overloading one.

Setting up one of these connections between two devices is a relatively easy task, meanwhile, so long as sharing is enabled on each terminal, and the appropriate permissions are set.

Beyond its simplicity, P2P connections are also relatively cost-free and efficient when compared against the costs of running a client-server network. The cost of purchasing and installing the hardware, as well as the staffing required to maintain a server, are not in setting up a P2P network.

What are the disadvantages of a P2P network?

Although a P2P network is a great solution if you're trying to eliminate server load, there should be some key considerations before you jump fully into using them for the transfer of data between your organisation.

Perhaps the most important point to bear in mind is there is no central control over security in P2P connections, which means malicious files can be shared between terminals and could potentially infect an entire organisation if all users are able to share data between each terminals.

There are further challenges too, namely if one device in the P2P network is too slow, the rest of the P2P network will be affected, making the process of sharing files fairly clumsy and frustrating.

Additionally, each computer or device will need to be backed up independently rather than centrally and because all devices across a P2P network work independently, anyone can delete data on any device. This, of course, means a shared file or folder could be removed by accident (or maliciously in some cases), making it unavailable to everyone.

How to boost P2P security

If you opt to use a P2P network rather than a client-server model, you'll need to make sure your employees are fully aware of the risks, of malware and other issues, that could put your organisations network in jeopardy. Although this should be something you build into your business, it is paramount if using a P2P network for sharing files for the reasons stated above.

It's also important to ensure only files that need to be shared are available via P2P networks, rather than everything available in the organisation. Because of the nature of P2P networks, any sensitive information can easily fall into the wrong hands.

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