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Exploring the history of the Internet

Posted by mandyf on February 26, 2012

It is a good time to look back on the developmental history of the Internet and the people that are responsible for creating it, and no, Al Gore is not one of them. The concept of the Internet and a large portion of its development primarily is credited to three people. While the idea did originate at a conference, it was Vannevar Bush, Norbet Wiener, and Marshall McLuhan who were the driving force behind the development of the internet. A special nod does need to go to the conference which planted the seed for all of this, the 1956 Dartmouth Artificial Intelligence Conference.

 First we need to begin with the players to keep a strong scorecard. Norbert Wiener is credited with having invented the field of cybernetics. This is significant because he served as the inspiration and the starting point for a modern and viable era of research that explicitly focused itself on using technology to expand the abilities of humans. Marshall McLuhan developed the concept of a central nervous system that would create what he termed as a global electronic communications village. Vannevar Bush penned the premiere paper describing the “memex” automated library system which described information sharing via technology. On there own each was a noble and advanced concept for the time, as a unit however the spawned the concept of the internet.

Shortly after the 1956 Dartmouth conference Sputnik (The first satellite) was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. Fearing falling further behind the Soviets in the technology race President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed DARPA (Later known as ARPA) which stood for Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. MIT President James Killian was appointed as the head of the agency and tasked primarily with finding technological advances that would allow the U.S. to protect itself from Soviet missile attacks. Killian felt the primary key was communication because while they may not stop an attack with technology, there had to be a communications infrastructure that was totally new and could allow rapid information transfers to respond to any situation.

This ushered in the IPTO (Information Processing Techniques Office) which was founded in 1962 which in turn created ARPANET, which was created to further the research of SAGE. While some disagree, ARPANET was the first true internet. This was developed by Honeywell whom installed IMP’s in Honeywell 516’s. Some say this was just a crude packet switching network, but for the technologically knowledgeable, that is all the internet really is at its core, packet switching. ARPANET was however worked on tirelessly by a mother lode of developers and it was on August 30, 1969 that the first IMP (Interface Message Processor) went into operation. at the UCLA Networks Measurements Center. This first interface was still a Honeywell 516 with what was then a whopping 12k of memory.

 Worth noting is the team that actually carried the brunt of the development for ARPANET which consisted of Jon Postel, Bill Naylor, Mike Wingfield, Vinton Cerf, and Steve Crocker whom were all graduate students at the time. The hardware interface was built by Wingfield which allowed the IMP and UCLA computer to communicate. It took several days to get everything hashed out, but it was a rather easy transition for them to get the IMP communicating with the local NMC host, and an SDS SIgma 7 computer that ran the SEX operating system. By October 30, 1969 at 10:30 PM, they were hooked to the Stanford Research Institute which ran an SDS-940 computer. The first attempt to communicate by trying to send an “o” between the two computers resulted in a crash, but the second attempt went flawlessly.

In March of 1970 the first East Coast U.S. node was added to the network, and by 1972, 24 sites had been linked to the ARPANET, most significantly the DOD (Department of Defense). The ARPANET crossed the 100 milestone marker (111) sites in 1977, and in 1983 MILNET (Military Network) was added to transfer electronic mail (email), but had to be disconnected due to security issues. This however prompted the development of DDN which was (And still is on a different network) the Defense Data Network.

In 1985 ARPANET connected to Australia and Europe making the internet global finally. Technological advances and higher demand led to the ARPANET being retired in 1990 when networks connected to it were transitioned bit by bit to NSFNET (National Science Foundation Network). As such, Universities were primarily the first moved onto this new network along with schools that were connected to CSNET (created in 1979) but not ARPANET.

Taking a step back into the “between years” in 1984 NSF started work on regional centers that housed supercomputers. These centers had what were the highest speed computers available to help aid research being conducted via CSNET by co-operating universities and facilities. Dennis Jennings was hired to oversee the project in 1985, and why this is hugely significant is that when

he began linking the regional supercomputers together he saw the need for there to be a backbone of sorts to hold together the “nerves” if you will. This is when he integrated ARPANET’s TCP/IP protocol with NSFNET. Then a router named “Fuzzball” was chosen for the initial NSFNET, not because it was the best as almost all agreed the Butterfly Gateway held that distinction, but rather because it was good enough, affordable enough, and met the internet standards they agreed needed to be present.

 As this was all in its infancy, the NSFNET operations were subcontracted to Cornel University were Scott Brim and Allison Brown started taking over. Their first step was to begin the tedious and immensely expensive process of ordering and drop shipping hardware and telephone lines to every site that was to be connected. On the edge of all of this, Len Bozak from Stanford was pretty sure he could build a machine to better handle the TCP/IP protocol needs of the new system and developed the machine through his new company CISCO.

As the network became more popular and known outside of the military and universities, the demand for bandwidth created a tremendous burden on NSFNET who could no longer maintain enough to meet the needs for their research. The answer was to spin off parallel networks aimed at commercial users which led to the formation of UUNET, PSInet, CERFNet, NEARNet, and ALTERNET. These all eventually were encompassed in the CIX (Commercial Internet Exchange).

To help see the growth of the internet from 1992 onward, consider the following statistics:

A) In January of 1992 the traffic on NSFNET was about 12 billion packets (About 1 trillion bytes) per month, 2/3 of which was inside the U.S.

B) By November of 1992 when the “backbone” was converted to a T3 line 4.5 million characters per second were being transferred.

C) In 1994 NSFNET traffic was surpassing 10 trillion bytes per month. It took only just over two years to see growth increase by a factor of ten.

While all of this was sensational, by 1995 it was in dire need of another massive upgrade which rang in the era of the Internet2 project. The NSFNET was dissolved on April 30, 1995, although still available as a core research network, and the “backbone” served as the basis for the new project.

The most used, web browser was NCSA Mosaic in the early days of the “new era” of the internet. This spawned a commercial version called Netscape Navigator which eventually changed its name to Communicator, and then once again to Netscape. Until 1999 Netscape was the most commercially viable browser on the market having the largest user share. Microsoft Internet Explorer then took over not really due to superior quality, but more so because of distribution. As a response, Netscape developed and offered Mozilla as free open source software, but what few people realized is it was basically still the old Netscape in new packaging with its internal company name attached to it. Mozilla pulled market share Microsoft, and in 2004 released the FireFox version which enjoyed even more success.

The internet has changed and grown significantly since those early years and continues to everyday. With each new advance, each new mind that lends a thought, the internet takes on new life and expands exponentially. The history of the internet is easy to reflect upon and study, the future is however limitless.



7 Responses to “Exploring the history of the Internet”

  1. V. said

    Reblogged this on New York City – M1 Marketing and Promotion and commented:
    Cool article.

  2. mandyf said

    Thanks V.

  3. V. said

    Welcome. 🙂

  4. txwikinger said

    Reblogged this on txwikinger's blog.

  5. […] Exploring the history of the Internet « Mind Candy. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  6. Tom Laing said

    Thanks Amanda – extraordinary history isn’t it. Shared it around.

  7. mandyf said

    It really is quite the story once you beginning working it backwards and get to the beginning. It certainly isn’t what so many think it is. Thank you for the share – cheers!

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