Feeds

Ethernet at 40: Its daddy reveals its turbulent youth

Bob Metcalfe: How Token Ring and 'IBM's arrogance' nearly sank Big Blue

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

Forty years down, more to go

Since defeating Token Ring, Ethernet has gone on to not only become the computing industry's default networking protocol, it has also been improved many times over.

The first Ethernet LAN created by Metcalfe and his colleagues at PARC ran at 2.94 megabits per second. In 1978, Xerox developed X-Wire, an Ethernet LAN that ran at 10Mbps, and Metcalfe's 3Com began shipping 10Mbps parts in 1981. In 1992, Grand Junction Networks started up to develop 100Mbps – aka "Fast" Ethernet – then Gigabit Ethernet came along in the late 1990s, and in June 2010 the IEEE approved its standard for 40/100 Gigabit Ethernet.

The reason for these improvements may seem obvious to most of us, but in Metcalfe's experience each inflection prompted some folks to say that enough is enough. "Every single time – at 2.94, at ten, at a hundred, at a thousand, at ten-thousand – there's always a chorus of people saying, 'We, we already have enough bandwidth, we don't need any more, it's too expensive, and the stuff we have we barely use, and blah, blah, blah'," he said.

Those people, Metcalfe asserts, don't see what usage models are coming down the pipe. To illustrate his point, he told us a story from back in the mists of time, when Ethernet was still in its infancy:

I was on a panel in 1976. There were three of us on the panel – two were commercially oriented marketing people and then there was me from research. I'm vaguely remembering this, so I may have my numbers wrong, but one of them was selling the dominant 2400-baud modem, and the other one had new technology running at 4800.

And the argument was this: 'At 2400, the characters go by on the screen faster than you can read. Why would you want 4800?' And then I was the third speaker – 2.94 megabits per second – so clearly we were going to carry a different kind of traffic, we were not going to carry scrolled ASCII characters.

So I think that's how this elasticity thing has been sustained over the decades. Eventually, I suppose, maybe that won't be true – but it's been true for 40 years.

And in May there'll be a party to celebrate those 40 years. In addition to inviting other contributors to the original Ethernet project – "who have been annoyed for decades that I get all the credit," he said – Metcalfe has also invited some of his adversaries in the war between Token Ring and Ethernet.

We asked why proponents of Token Ring would accept an invitation to an Ethernet celebration. "I don't know. Some of them still don't like me, and they want to come just to take their last shot," Metcalfe mused.

"They'll probably argue that Ethernet resembles what they were proposing more today than the original Ethernet did – and they might be right." ®

Bootnote

After our interview, Metcalfe and your humble Reg reporter were joined by PARC's CEO Steve Hoover, and the conversation turned to Ayn Rand and the Atlas Shrugged movies, which Hoover asked Metcalfe if he had seen. "I have, both one and two, and am now looking forward to three," Metcalfe said.

"The people who don't like Ayn Rand thought it was a terrible movie, and the people who think the world of Ayn Rand, like I do, think it was a great movie. They can't talk to each other," he said, adding, "I've read Atlas Shrugged like six times, a long time ago."

Wrapping up his comments on Rand's magnum opus, Metcalfe said "Let's hope that California does not succeed in killing Silicon Valley, as it is earnestly trying to do. Let's hope John Galt intercedes somehow."

Reducing security risks from open source software

More from The Register

next story
Sysadmin Day 2014: Quick, there's still time to get the beers in
He walked over the broken glass, killed the thugs... and er... reconnected the cables*
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
Auntie remains MYSTIFIED by that weekend BBC iPlayer and website outage
Still doing 'forensics' on the caching layer – Beeb digi wonk
SHOCK and AWS: The fall of Amazon's deflationary cloud
Just as Jeff Bezos did to books and CDs, Amazon's rivals are now doing to it
BlackBerry: Toss the server, mate... BES is in the CLOUD now
BlackBerry Enterprise Services takes aim at SMEs - but there's a catch
The triumph of VVOL: Everyone's jumping into bed with VMware
'Bandwagon'? Yes, we're on it and so what, say big dogs
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.