Hardware giants including Intel, IBM and Hewlett Packard have formed a group to study so-called peer-to-peer computing - the technology that is being popularised by Napster but which could make central servers obsolete.
The 19-member group will also work towards establishing a standard for the technology.
Speaking at the Intel Developer Forum in California this week, Patrick Gelsinger, vice president and chief technology officer at the chip giant's architecture group, said he believes peer-to-peer computing will be the driving force behind the internet in the future.
"Peer-to-peer computing could be as important to [the] internet's future as the web browser was to its past," he said. "While the most visible impact of this model has been in consumer environments, peer-to-peer computing has the potential to play a major role in business computing as well."
In peer-to-peer networks, computers, usually desktops, communicate directly with each other to distribute tasks that can be carried out when the machines are not in use. As a result, central servers are no longer required to distribute workloads.
Intel estimates that individual computers at a typical large corporation contain two-and-a-half times the computing power available in servers. Companies can save billions of dollars by taking advantage of this existing resource, according to Intel.
"By adding peer-to-peer capabilities, corporations can tap into existing teraflops of performance and terabytes of storage to make today's applications more efficient and enable entirely new applications in the future," said Gelsinger.
He cited the [email protected] project as an example of a distributed computing model, although it does use central servers. Seti - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - uses the idle processing power of hundreds of thousands of home computers to search for signs of intelligent life in space.
Intel, which has used distributed computing to develop chips, plans to fund peer-to-peer networking developments through its Intel Capital arm. "I expect to see business models where people will resell your spare Mips [millions of instructions per second]," said Gelsinger.
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