Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

2013 marks 30 years of the Internet

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It’s a little odd to see the Internet turn 30 – it doesn’t feel as if it has been around that long.

In a way, it’s been around in a lesser form for even longer. It’s roots date back to the 1960s, when the US Government commissioned the build of robust, fault-tolerant, and distributed computer networks. The idea is generally said to have been driven by the desire to have a system that would continue to operate by routing itself around sections taken out by nuclear bombs. The original testing dates back to 1969, when the first tests were carried out in the ARPANET experiment by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The normal landlines and telephone networks of the time were ‘dumb’, and once a connection or switching centre was taken out, the line would be dead unless physically rewired by engineers. A network carrying data differed, as this could be configured to use whatever paths were available,  not just point-to-point direct wiring.

January 1,1973 marked the 30th anniversary of the switchover of all computers on ARPANET — the Internet’s predecessor — to a technology called TCP/IP, short for Transmission Control Protocol, and Internet Protocol. Together, these two technologies work together to route Internet data traffic — or packets — from one Internet-connected computer to another. The date was significant because prior to that, different networks had used different and competing protocols, and would not ‘speak’ to one another. With no common language, each network used its own communications technology to transmit packets, and there was no way to transmit these bits of information between networks.

You can read a more detailed note on this anniversary written by Vince Cerf, considered to be one of the Fathers of the Internet:

Marking the birth of the modern-day Internet | Official Google Blog

From this development, we would eventually arrive at the World Wide Web, credited to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was developing HTML at the time, and would subsequently inaugurate the World Wide Web on December 25, 1992 (although others contest his date – so we’ll let them argue about it themselves.)

I  mention this as I recently drew attention to the recent attempt by countries with Communist-type backgrounds to take over control of the Internet, when China, Russia, India, and others sought to have the UN take over control of the Internet, but Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said ahead of the event: “There is no need for the ITU to take over the internet governance.” The move was ultimately thrown out, unsurprisingly probably, since those countries backing the change are already able to do a pretty good job of censoring the Internet within their own borders anyway.

Although I didn’t even refer to the World Wide Web in my original posting, some cretin latched on to it, and kept on telling me that I, like millions of others, didn’t know the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web. When I corrected this idiot, and asked him to withdraw the claim, his response was merely to ignore me, and keep on repeating it. When asked more formally to cease, his reaction was to throw his toys out of his pram… and storm off in a huff.

For the record, it’s easy to differentiate the two: Internet is a short form of the technical term Internetwork, the result of interconnecting computer networks with special gateways or routers.

The World Wide Web is quite different, and is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet.

However, it is true to say that in general day-to-day usage, most people use the two interchangeably as they are unaware of the difference, and for what they are usually referring to, it makes little or no material difference. But, it is still an error.

The arrival and general commercialisation of the Internet had a major impact on those of us working with data on remote sites that needed to be connected.

The first major difference we saw was with email. We adopted this at an early stage because we dealt with many oil and gas majors, but things were tough as each company used a different system, and email could only be exchanged when each organisation dialled another and connected to the others mail server via modem and phone line, one client at a time. And even when the Internet became better known, many of them would not allow it to be used, for fear of being hacked, or of having some sort of virus infect their mainframes – yes, this was a time when big companies were reluctant to let PCs in the door.

We had one major client who would not even allow an Internet connected PC on their internal network, and to provide a remotely managed service on their site, we had to provide a single PC and router in order to connect to the database from our own office. Instead of merely emailing staff on site, we had to print everything, and have the paper copy delivered by their internal mail system. Info came back on paper too, and we had to type the info from the replies back into the system by hand.

We were fortunate that one enterprising business saw an opportunity to set up a hub that allowed all these companies to operate their email from a central server, which meant only one call would send and receive emails to all, but it was still not the ‘instant’ desktop email we enjoy today. That did not follow for some years, after which the hub operator unfortunately went bust.

We also had to operate offices at different sites, and the only way to connect these was via leased data lines, and back in the pre-1990s, these cost around £12 k per line for the cheapest – needed to give ‘always on’ access similar to ADSL or broadband today, which only costs a few pounds by comparison. We managed to create a pseudo ‘always on’ system that used ISDN lines, and only connected on demand, and this reduced the cost to only a few thousand£ per annum. But it still gave us the odd shocking bill, as it was charged at peak rate (since it was being used during business hours), and if the system failed to drop the line after being used, just kept on being billed until I spotted it, and killed the connection.

Some people wonder why I laugh when they complain about their ISPs today, when they have broadband for relatively low cost (say £15 – £20 per month), and which works for more that 99% of the time. Those of us who were in on the start were lucky to run 56 K – 128 K, which was used not continuously, but on demand, and was charged by the minute… merely for being connected, whether or not you were actually using it.

Thank goodness we’ve left that sort of ‘service’ far behind.

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January 17, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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