I miei ricordi sulla nascita della Internet Society
Memories of the birth of the Internet Society
Stefano Giordano
  • I was a scholarship researcher at the CNUCE institute (part of the state research body CNR) before I finished my degree. In 1988 we were working on a study contract for IBM (ASTRA - Application Software & Technical Reports for Academia) which in retrospect I would call a precursor of WAIS, which was a precursor of GOPHER which itself preceded the WEB explosion.
  • Some years afterwards I participated with Laura, Stefano and other close friends from CNUCE at the INET91 conference in Copenhagen. After graduating I did my military service but tried anyway to collaborate on the RINAF project (Regional Information Society Network for Africa), financed by Unesco with the objective of linking networks in some African countries.
  • I remember I had managed to get a furlough so that I could participate at a convention where, perhaps for the first time, I was to address a seminar on telecommunications networks for an audience of delegates from these African countries.
  • I was struck by the widespread use of ISDN in northern Europe and by the fact that the chairman of Terena (The Trans-European Research and Education Networking Association) declared, "next year we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus but our Vikings in their Drakkar longships had already been there hundreds of years before!".
  • The convention centre was linked by Dial-up over ISDN network and I had studied metropolitan networks DQDB (IEEE 802.6) and was extremely interested in developments of ISDN Broadband (ATM-based transport). At the time I didn't know that one of the world leaders in the sector of switching and production of ISDN exchanges was ITALTEL, nor that Bellcore the US giant used codecs by Telettra, another world leader in the sector of radio coding and transmissions. But that is another story for another day.
  • These were the most important world congresses for NREN - National Research and Education Networks - and the research into networks had nothing to do with research networks. Still, Laura, Stefano and I were convinced that something was changing, that there would be a "convergence" towards global solutions, scalable and flexible, that could embrace all systems, even in the most underdeveloped countries. It is important to understand what the IBM, DIGITAL, TCP/IP networks were at that time.
  • The OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) was defined over decades of meetings of the ISO, ITU, etc, yet some "garage geeks" including Jon Postel (with his white ponytail) or Van Jacobson (I remember that Marco Sommani had immediately understood and appreciated his ideas on TCP congestion control) thought that the stack system could work as a sort of universal glue, a key element for global Internetworking, an idea that at the time was far from obvious. The next year, as announced at Copenhagen, at INET92 the Internet Society was to be founded. At RINAF we were all terribly excited about DIAL-UP IP.
  • I remember the first TELEBIT (the company was founded by Paul Baran, credited with the invention of packet switching). I remember the modem with 512 orthogonal carriers, which we were able to use on extremely low quality lines. The most viable networking systems for countries with poor quality telecommunications at the time were FIDONET and UUCP (now known as DTN - Delay Tolerant Networking).
  • I have three distinct memories of the INET92 conference (I recently came across the canvas bag supplied to attendees to hold the proceedings - all printed paper of course). The first is of the presentation by Stefano on RINAF and the fact that perhaps thanks to these new devices we would be able to connect developing countries to WAIS, GOPHER, etc. using Dial-up IP.
  • The second is of a brief squabble I had with a certain Christian Huitemà (I had no idea who he was) who said that in the future we would be able to transmit conferences like that at a global level (which he was already doing with the Rodeo project at INRIA).
  • I was a big supporter of Broadband ISDN and ATM, yet when some years later in Pisa Prof. Roveri, director of the Telecommunications project at CNR, asked me during a lecture if I thought that it was possible to transmit audio and video over an ordinary Ethernet network using packet switching, I answered yes, because Christian had convinced me in the end.
  • Later at MAN Toscana we carried out the first experiments in Italy transmitting audio and video using multicast packet switching.
  • Experiments that were extended to the GARR network, in collaboration with Maurizio Lancia's group at CNR Rome. In Pisa we used workstation lent by Silicon Graphics (the same were used on Jurassic Park!).
  • The third memory is a presentation by Toshitada Doi (manager of the Sony Japan Data Center - grandson of a real Samurai!) - 11:00-12:00 Keynote address: Toward Multimedia Networking by Toshitada Doi (Sony, Japan).
  • I'll never forget it! He came on stage wearing trousers at half-mast like Charlie Chaplin's, but he was the grandson of a Samurai and no-one dared crack a smile. His presentation was about the amazing technological progress achieved in Japan and by SONY and then concluded with a masterclass in communications: a giant screen showed a written text, then a voice reading the text, then a still image of a person with a voice in the background reading the same text, then a slow-motion video and finally a full motion version with good quality audio and video. In each case he carefully stated the exact quantity of data required for transmission.
  • "You have just seen that emotion is proportional to the quantity of information".
  • The audience of 600 people in the classroom were speechless. At that point the organizers asked if anyone had any questions. I was sitting near the back (the large auditorium sloped downwards). A guy wearing short trousers stood up in front of me. He was wearing a T-shirt that said "Columbia" and when I saw his shorts I thought "you're not going to take on a Samurai?!".
  • He approached one of the microphones placed at different points around the hall and said "You say that information is proportional to emotion". "Yes", said the Samurai. "Have you ever read Dickens?" said the guy in shorts, "I've felt more emotion reading Dickens than in all the Columbia Pictures films I've ever seen".
  • The audience erupted in applause. He made his point. It was a lesson and an emotion I still feel today when I think that it is not just a question of bits, bytes, frames and packets… but of men and their unstoppable passion for communication.
Happy Birthday ISOC