Lee LaBarre & Paul Brusil
In the late ‘70s, MITRE Corporation, the government sponsored nonprofit research organization, had developed their own local area networking technology, MITRENET. As interest in networking began to grow throughout their various government sponsors, MITRE saw the need to bring together experts in the field of networking to better understand the needs of potential users and the challenges of developing viable networking products. In late ’78 and early ’79 MITRE organized small forums with LAN experts. Following the interest in these informal meetings, MITRE, along with the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), sponsored the Local Area Communications Network (LACN) Symposium in May 1979 in Boston.
The LACN symposium brought into full view the need of MITRE’s government sponsors to procure networking technology. MITRE at that point was able to recommend strategies and design prototypes, but its charter did not allow MITRE to sell commercial products. MITRE sought to gather together potential vendors for this new market. The conference was a watershed moment in the history of the LAN industry as it illustrated to many engineers and entrepreneurs the emerging demand for local networking. One month later, in June of ’79, three of the leading LAN companies were founded, 3Com, Ungermann-Bass, & Sytek. As well as providing a catalyst for the growing LAN market, MITRE served as a talent pool for at least two of the major LAN startups: both U-B and Sytek hired engineers with technical background in networking from MITRE.
In this interview, Lee LaBarre and Paul Brusil recall the thinking that led to the first networking forums and eventually to the symposium. They describe the early work that MITRE had done to develop its broadband CSMA network, along with Ford Aerospace, another talent pool of networking engineers, some of whom went on to build Sytek. It was clear to La Barre and Brusil in the spring of ’79 that the MITRE symposium was a tipping point, convincing existing companies, entrepreneurs, and investors that the demand for networking products had the potential to establish a significant market.
Keywords: MITRE Corporation, Local Area Communications Network Symposium, MITRENET, National Bureau of Standards (NBS)