A look back at Internet History

While doing research on the evolution of protocols I came across an interesting documentary film about the history of the ARPANET and birth of the Internet[1]. Definitely a must watch if you haven’t seen it to see how our industry was first envisioned by the early ARPAnet engineers.

Some reflection on the ideas which even today have not fully lived up with the pre-Internet expectations.

Applications moves across computers transparently, while the network provides automatic load leveling to avoid congestion. Users login to the network without care of where the computation is taking place and distributed operating systems decide which computer can best perform the job.

Files can be backed up on more than one site so files are always accessible and retrievable. People, data, computers, circuits, protocols and facilities are all resources which allow people to work together and collaborate.

Computing centers can be built with specialized form and function, data communication evolve allowing every terminal, computer to interconnect. Connect at messages not at circuits.

Some day you can store 100,000 books for $1MM

Many realize a big problem in the Internet (really not an Internet but a bunch of concatenated IP networks or catenet) has been around the adoption of TCP/IP by DARPA in the early days. Alex McKenzie from BBN has a great history on the discussions that progressed from ARPANet NCP to INWG-96[2]

Even after the international body selected INWG-96 for testing amongst the emerging networks such as ARPANET and Cyclades. DARPA adopted TCP/IP, the somewhat defective version of INWG 39 that lacked a proper addressing model, incorporated an ineffective congestion control system, and failed to clearly distinguish the end-to-end TCP layer from the IP layer (the infamous TCP “pseudo-header” ties TCP sessions to specific network interfaces and sub-networks.) The effort to correct the TCP/IP deficiencies, ISO’s Open System Interconnect project, became mired in politics and missed deadline after deadline, ultimately missing the window for an Internet-wide upgrade, and now we’ve landed in the IPv6 conversion.[3]

There are many ideas how to solve the problems in TCP/IP some are under the Clean-Slate programs such as GENI, FIND, etc.. Some see hacking the datalink layer, others RINA and yet others see OpenFlow as the framework to fix the structural problems with TCP/IP. A good overview of the problems and the possible solutions was just published by Time Warner Cable Research, Remaking the Internet: Taking Network Architecture to the Next Level[4]

All of the current protocol work masks the problems of the network and internetwork layer (figure 1). This creates complexity, adds to the cost of the network and ultimately diminishes the use of the network I.e. Such as the move to cloud computing.

Clearly this problem exists, its not going away and in fact is getting worse every day as the amount of smart connected devices grows. Eventually someone will need to push this industry into proper theory and engineering after 40yrs of craft. This is not to say it is easy, it won’t be. Many still have a hard time seeing beyond TCP/IP as its the only protocol they have known.

Clean-Slate opportunity is all around for those willing and able to take on this endeavor. We have learned a alot in the past 4 decades, TCP was under development for almost a decade and implemented in less than 1 year from specification to implementation . I think its time for a change.

Figure 1
  1. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4989933629762859961
  2. http://alexmckenzie.weebly.com/inwg-and-the-conception-of-the-internet-an-eyewitness-account.html
  3. http://www.hightechforum.org/the-internets-first-turning-point/
  4. http://www.twcresearchprogram.com/pdf/TWC_Bennett_v3.pdf