Internetworking: Emergence 1985-1988
Local Area Networks and Wide Area Networks
By 1985, the surge of local area network (LAN) installations by corporations was transforming the “weed-like” phenomenon swelling departmental budgets into corporate reorganizations creating IT departments promising strategic opportunities and competitive advantage. To leverage the full capability of LANs first meant that corporations had to connect all their computers to LANs and then interconnect all their LANs into all-encompassing enterprise networks. Entering 1987, the promise of enterprise networks remained just that: a promising vision, not a viable capital investment. But by the end of 1988, most of the issues had been resolved and the emergence of the third wave of computer communications – Internetworking – was underway.
An early public demonstration of how interconnecting LANs would revolutionize business was the MAP demonstration at NCC in July 1984. While successful, the participants also realized just how much more remained to be done. A more ambitious demonstration of both the transport and network layers of the MAP and TOP OSI protocol stacks was scheduled for the Autofact trade show in 1985. Again much was learned and new goals were set that would culminate in another public demonstration in June 1988 at the Enterprise Networking Event.
The alternative to the OSI protocols were those that had been birthed and shepherded by DARPA: TCP/IP. Only the Federal Government made clear in 1987 that in the future all networks would be interconnected using OSI not TCP/IP. A handful of renegades, and vendors needing to ship product, refused to abandon ship. At the Interop trade shows of 1988, TCP/IP proved robust and viable despite the decisions that OSI would be the future.
Beginning as early as 1983, entrepreneurs were eyeing the interconnection of LANs as an attractive market opportunity. Venture capitalists, flush with money, readily agreed. The first products of internetworking were limited in functionality, needing the Network Layer protocols to truly provide transparent interconnection. By the end of 1988, the eventual dominant firms of Internetworking – cisco Systems and Wellfleet – had already begun shipping products and dozens of others had entered the market.
The need of corporations to interconnect their computers into ever-expanding and inclusive networks left unmistakable consequences on the evolution of the Data Communications and Networking markets. By the end of 1988, no firm observed in this history escaped transformation, as they struggled to succeed and even to survive.
Now to the conclusion of the early history of Computer Communications: an ending crafted as much by historical accidents as by prophetic visions.