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Chapter 14 - Internetworking: Emergence 1985-1988

14.10 Enterprise Network Event (OSI) - June

By the fall of 1986, the NBS might have reviewed its actions since 1982 and concluded that it had largely achieved the vision set out by Heafner in 1979: that the DoD buys OSI from IBM. With IBM having blessed MAP earlier in the year - proxy that IBM would endorse GOSIP and even OSI - and the DoD having made OSI a co-equal standard to TCP/IP in 1985, the unanswered issue remained the availability of competitive OSI products. To incent vendors to build OSI products that interoperated, what better a way than to give contracts for them to do exactly that! Planning for a next big public exhibition began soon after Autofact ’85. Only this time the effort would result not in an OSI demonstration, but an exposition of product interconnected and working seamlessly and, most importantly, available for sale. The Enterprise Networking Event (ENE) scheduled for June 5-9 1988 in Baltimore, Maryland, was to be the final coming out party for OSI networking.

Three groups sponsored ENE: COS, the MAP/TOP Users Group, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. A total of fifty vendors participated in nine booths, whose sponsors highlighted the event’s focus on large-scale manufacturing: GM, Boeing, TRW, John Deere, the Air Force/Industry Coalition, and Process Industries. COS itself sponsored a booth, as did Britain’s Communication Networking for Manufacturing Applications and the British Department of Trade and Industry (in conjunction with British Telecom).

The build-up to ENE contained a mix of hype, promises, and skepticism that was, by this point, a familiar feature of OSI promotions. ENE’s organizers could boast that the event’s 50 vendors marked a significant jump from 16 vendors at NCC in 1984 and 21 vendors at Autofact ’85. All the American computing giants—including IBM, HP, AT&T, Xerox, Data General, Wang, and Honeywell—would be there, as well as leading European manufacturers and a number of smaller and younger Internetworking companies such as 3Com, Apple, SUN Microsystems, Micom, Retix, and Touch Communications.41 Keynote speakers from the upper levels of the Department of Defense, Arthur Andersen, and the Commission of European Communities would reinforce the message that all major stakeholders were behind the global adoption of OSI.42

The conference and exposition spotlighted MAP/TOP Version 3.0. An April article in Data Communications touted the new capabilities in TOP 3.0, which had thus far been cast as the “weaker sibling of the more acclaimed MAP… With Version 3.0, however the tables may be turned. TOP has a strong chance of outdistancing MAP as well as many single-vendor offerings.” TOP’s new capabilities included standardized, multi-vendor applications such as graphical data interchange, electronic mail, remote file access, remote terminal access, network directories, and—significantly for beleaguered system administrators—network management.43 Conveniently for NBS officials like Jerry Mulvenna, most of the software on display also fit within GOSIP, which would be published as FIPS 146 during the same decisive month of June 1988.

Not everyone was convinced that the stars were aligning for the big coming out party of MAP, TOP, and GOSIP. Members of COS grumbled that their annual dues of $200,000 were being wasted, the group was being poorly managed, and plans for COS to offer comprehensive conformance testing at ENE would be delayed.44 The lurking fear was that the OSI’s history was repeating itself, and that certified interoperable OSI products would remain unavailable. Critics noted the gulf between “COS promises” and “COS deliveries,” and likened COS to a “sprinter who suffers a hamstring pull out of the starting gate.”45 COS became a convenient scapegoat for problems that were endemic throughout 10 years of OSI development: the lack of products, erosion in customer confidence, and annoying tendency for OSI to promise more than it delivered.

ENE confirmed both the hopes of OSI’s supporters and the fears of its critics. Vendors were able to demonstrate OSI standards for network management and electronic mail, but the absence of certified conformance testing confirmed that customers would still need to wait for certified OSI products. Instead of products for sale, the estimated 10,000-11,000 attendees saw mostly prototype demonstrations—a marginal improvement on Autofact ’85.46 Even MAP 3.0, presumably the most proven of the OSI profiles, was a disappointment. Experts noted that MAP installations were few and far between, and that MAP performance testing would not exist for another 2 or 3 years.47 Worse still, a conflict over intellectual property between General Motors and the North American MAP/TOP Users Group threatened to destabilize the market further.48 Even “Mini-MAP,” a three-layer version of MAP intended to be simpler, faster, and cheaper than the original, was “discredited” by the end of 1988 because it had yet to be deployed. A MAP consultant, Paul Nelson of Venture Development Corp., admitted “I’m not bullish on the market.”49

Despite some lingering disappointment in the wake of ENE, OSI supporters remained steadfast. They insisted that OSI was maturing, its capabilities were robust, products were appearing, and its support was growing amongst vendors and customers in corporations and governments around the world.50

Would the future of TCP/IP fare better that same historically hot year of 1988?

  • [41]

    “Giant MAP/TOP demo slated for ’88,” ComputerWorld (December 14, 1987), p. 55.

  • [42]

    ENTERPRISE Conference Proceedings, June 5-9, 1988, Baltimore, Maryland (Dearborn, Michigan: Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 1988).

  • [43]

    Thomas J. Routt, “Under the Big TOP at Enterprise ’88: TOP 3.0’s Debut,” Data Communications (April, 1988), p. 155.

  • [44]

    John Bush, “COS fiddles with testers while OSI vendors burn,” Data Communications (February, 1988), p. 51.

  • [45]

    “COS must act now to reaffirm its OSI role,” Data Communications (February, 1988), p. 13.

  • [46]

    John Bush, “COS bats .500 in Baltimore,” Data Communications (July, 1988), p. 55

  • [47]

    Joseph Braue and Lee Mantelman, “European testers make MAP conformance an ENE success.”

  • [48]

    Paul R. Strauss, “Flexibility or heresy? The struggle to redraw MAP,” Data Communications (November, 1988), p. 49-56.

  • [49]

    “The incredible shrinking Mini-MAP,” Data Communications (November, 1988), 50.

  • [50]

    Paul R. Strauss, “The standards deluge: A sound foundation or a Tower of Babel?” Data Communication (September, 1988), p.150-164.