La prima interazione italiana con Bob Kahn e Vint Cerf
The first meeting of the italian experts with Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf
Luciano Lenzini

Extract of Professor Luciano Lenzini's Laudatio, held at the conferral of Laurea Honoris Causa to Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, Pisa, May 26th 2006

  • We need to go back to the late sixtiesand early seventies.
  • In that period the first packet switching network, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET for short was put into operation and Dr.Kahn had a major role in the overall architectural design.
  • The aim of ARPANET was to connect computers or hosts in order to timeshare resources. ARPANET used the innovativeconcept of "packet switching", an alternative to the traditional "circuit switching" techniqueimplemented by telephone networks.
  • In October 1972, Dr. Kahn organized a large, very successful demonstration of the ARPANET capabilities at the International Computer Communication Conference.
  • This event was the origin of several national and international research projects.
  • For example, in Pisa we had RPCNET, the first Italian packet switching network in a research environment.
  • At the same time, telecommunication operators started looking with great interest at the potentialof this technology to provide data services to their customers.
  • In the seventies, ARPA developed two other packet network technologies, one for groundbased packet radio (called PRNET) and the other for broadcast geostationary satellites (named SATNET).
  • Neither of these packet networks could communicate through ARPANET.
  • Then, Dr. Kahn's idea was to get hosts to communicate across multiple packet networks of rather arbitrary design without knowing the network technology underneath.
  • This idea paved the way to the Internet era. In the spring of 1973, Bob Kahn (then at ARPA) and Vint Cerf (then at Stanford) started working together on the detailed design of this idea. The outcomes of their fruitful collaboration were many and strongly innovative.
  • They realised that a "gateway" (now known as a router) was needed between networks to accommodate their different interfaces and route packets of data.
  • In addition, their collaboration led to the creation of a new protocol, calledthe Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, which as we all know is still used today, after more than 35 years from its original design, to carry out communication between processes running on separate hosts connected to the same or different networks.
  • In order to support packetized voice, in 1978, Vint Cerf split the TCP into two separate parts.
  • The result was TCP and the Internet Protocol and this justifies the acronym TCP/IP.
  • The User Datagram Protocol (UDP) was thus created and many services, including the modern voice over IP service (VoIP), work today on top of UDP.
  • The widespread success of personal computers and the deployment of Ethernet Local Area Networks during the late eighties dramatically increased the number of networks making up the Internet.
  • Interestingly, TCP/IP was easily able to encompass both technological shifts from mainframe to personal computers and from wide area to local area networks.
  • At the same time, TCP/IP has enabled the many rapid and accessible applications on the Internet that we rely on today, including email, the World Wide Web, Instant Messaging, Peer-to-Peer transfers, and a wide range of collaboration and conferencing tools.
  • These development shave helped make Information Technology a critical component across the industrial world. At the time it was designed the TCP/IP protocol was recognized as being very innovative.
  • However I am sure that even Bob and Vint never imagined that they had created the essential underpinnings of today's planetary Internet.
  • Nearly a billion users are now connected to the Internet. Only people working in computer networking know how it really works. Very few people know how it got here.
  • Probably, hardly anyone knows that a SATNET node was installed in Pisa in the middle of the 80s.
  • This was the third European node, after the ones installed at the University College of London and NTE in Norway.
  • Specifically, towards the end of the 70s, Bob Kahn visited CNUCE, an Institute of the CNR, the Italian Research Council, located in Pisa, for discussing the extension of SATNET to Italy.
  • At that time CNUCE was about to finish a similar project at a European level named STELLA (Satellite Transmission Experiment Linking LAboratories).
  • This meant that CNUCE had the necessary competences for collaborating with the SATNET research community.
  • In that period fruitful discussions occurred between researchers from Pisa and from the USA. On various occasions Bob and Vint visited CNUCE.
  • And on one of them the configuration of the Italian SATNET node was set up. Well, it took almost one year before CNR approved the acquisition of that node. But a few days after this happened there was a technological enhancement in the SATNET node which moved from a small and cheap minicomputer to a very powerful and expensive multiprocessor computer, named butterfly gateway.
  • The butterfly gateway was officially announced in one of the International Cooperation Board meetings, which I was attending.
  • You can imagine how I felt! I remember I informed all the attendees that I had decided to give up working on the Italian SATNET node project.
  • To have the new order approved it would have taken another whole year. And in any case there might have been another technological improvement in the meantime!
  • Well, Bob brought forward the coffee break and suddenly disappeared into a corner with Vint.
  • When the meeting restarted, Bob stood up and said: "Luciano, I have some very good news for you. We will finance the Italian butterfly gateway so that you can get on with the activation of the Italian node!"
  • I must confess this was the first and last time in my life in which bureaucracy has produced a positive result.
Happy Birthday ISOC