30 years ago, at flip of a switch, the internet as we know it WAS BORN

How TCP/IP nearly fell at the first hurdle


Analysis Thirty years ago this week the modern internet became operational as the US military flipped the switch on TCP/IP, but the move to the protocol stack was nearly killed at birth.

The deadline was 1 January, 1983: after this, any of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network's (ARPANET) 400 hosts that were still clinging to the existing, host-to-host Network Control Protocol (NCP) were to be cut off.

The move to packet switching with TCP/IP was simultaneous and co-ordinated with the community in the years before 1983. More than 15 government and university institutions from NASA AMES to Harvard University used NCP on ARPANET.

With so many users, though, there was plenty of disagreement. The deadline was ultimately set because everybody using ARPANET was convinced of the need for wholesale change.

TCP/IP was the co-creation of Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, who published their paper, A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection (warning: PDF) in 1974.

ARPANET was the wide-area network sponsored by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that went live in 1969, while Cerf had been an ARPANET scientist at Stanford University. The military had become interested in a common protocol as different networks and systems using different protocols began to hook up to ARPANET and found they couldn’t easily talk to each other,

Cerf, who today is vice-president and "chief internet evangelist" at Google, announced the 30th anniversary of the TCP/IP switchover in an official Google blog post titled "Marking the birth of the modern-day Internet".

The 1983 deadline’s passing was anticlimactic, Cerf recalls, considering how important TCP/IP became as an enabler for the internet. Cerf writes:

When the day came, it’s fair to say the main emotion was relief, especially amongst those system administrators racing against the clock. There were no grand celebrations—I can’t even find a photograph. The only visible mementos were the “I survived the TCP/IP switchover” pins proudly worn by those who went through the ordeal!

Yet, with hindsight, it’s obvious it was a momentous occasion. On that day, the operational Internet was born. TCP/IP went on to be embraced as an international standard, and now underpins the entire Internet.

It was a significant moment, and without TCP/IP we wouldn’t have the internet as we know it.

But that wasn’t the end of the story, and three years later TCP/IP was in trouble as it suffered from severe congestion to the point of collapse.

TCP/IP had been adopted by the US military in 1980 following successful tests across three separate networks, and when it went live ARPANET was managing 400 nodes.

After the January 1983 switchover, though, so many computer users were starting to connect to ARPANET - and across ARPANET to other networks - that traffic had started to hit bottlenecks. By 1986 there were 28,000 nodes chattering across ARPANET, causing congestion with speeds dropping from 32Kbps to 40bps across relatively small distances.

It fell to TCP/IP contributor Van Jacobson, who’d spotted the slowdown between his lab in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley — just 400 yards and two IMP hops apart – to save TCP/IP and the operational internet.

Jacobson devised a congestion-avoidance algorithm to lower a computer's network data transfer speed and settle on a stable but slower connection rather than blindly flooding the network with packets.

The algorithm allowed TCP/IP systems to process lots of requests in a more conservative fashion. The fix was first applied as a client-side patch to PCs by sysadmins and then incorporated into the TCP/IP stack. Jacobson went on to author the Congestion Avoidance and Control (SIGCOMM 88) paper (here) while the internet marched on to about one billion nodes.

And even this is not the end of the story. Years later, in an interview with The Reg, Jacobson reckoned TCP/IP faces another crisis - and, again, it's scalability.

This time, the problem is millions of users surfing towards the same web destinations for the same content, such as a piece of news or video footage on YouTube. Jacobson, a Xerox PARC research fellow and former Cisco chief scientist, told us in 2010 about his work on Content-Centric Networking, a network architecture to cache content locally to avoid everybody hitting exactly the same servers simultaneously. You can read more here. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Google has more reasons why it doesn't like antitrust law that affects Google
    It'll ruin Gmail, claims web ads giant

    Google has a fresh list of reasons why it opposes tech antitrust legislation making its way through Congress but, like others who've expressed discontent, the ad giant's complaints leave out mention of portions of the proposed law that address said gripes.

    The law bill in question is S.2992, the Senate version of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which is closer than ever to getting votes in the House and Senate, which could see it advanced to President Biden's desk.

    AICOA prohibits tech companies above a certain size from favoring their own products and services over their competitors. It applies to businesses considered "critical trading partners," meaning the company controls access to a platform through which business users reach their customers. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in one way or another seemingly fall under the scope of this US legislation. 

    Continue reading
  • Cable cut blamed for global four-hour internet disruption
    Google Cloud, OVHcloud say everything's getting back to normal, which is a shame

    Google Cloud and other internet service providers are recovering from network issues attributed to a network cable cut that began in the Middle East and Asia just before 0700 PDT (1400 UTC).

    The cable, Asia-Africa-Europe-1 (AAE-1), is a 25,000km submarine cable operated by a telecom consortium. It connects South East Asia to Europe by way of Egypt.

    According to Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network monitoring biz Kentik, problems with AAE-1 affected internet connectivity in various countries in East Africa, Middle East and South Asia, including Pakistan, Somalia, Djibouti, and Saudi Arabia.

    Continue reading
  • I was fired for blowing the whistle on cult's status in Google unit, says contractor
    The internet giant, a doomsday religious sect, and a lawsuit in Silicon Valley

    A former Google video producer has sued the internet giant alleging he was unfairly fired for blowing the whistle on a religious sect that had all but taken over his business unit. 

    The lawsuit demands a jury trial and financial restitution for "religious discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation and related causes of action." It alleges Peter Lubbers, director of the Google Developer Studio (GDS) film group in which 34-year-old plaintiff Kevin Lloyd worked, is not only a member of The Fellowship of Friends, the exec was influential in growing the studio into a team that, in essence, funneled money back to the fellowship.

    In his complaint [PDF], filed in a California Superior Court in Silicon Valley, Lloyd lays down a case that he was fired for expressing concerns over the fellowship's influence at Google, specifically in the GDS. When these concerns were reported to a manager, Lloyd was told to drop the issue or risk losing his job, it is claimed. 

    Continue reading
  • Google recasts Anthos with hitch to AWS Outposts
    If at first you don't succeed, change names and try again

    Google Cloud's Anthos on-prem platform is getting a new home under the search giant’s recently announced Google Distributed Cloud (GDC) portfolio, where it will live on as a software-based competitor to AWS Outposts and Microsoft Azure Stack.

    Introduced last fall, GDC enables customers to deploy managed servers and software in private datacenters and at communication service provider or on the edge.

    Its latest update sees Google reposition Anthos on-prem, introduced back in 2020, as the bring-your-own-server edition of GDC. Using the service, customers can extend Google Cloud-style management and services to applications running on-prem.

    Continue reading
  • UK competition watchdog seeks to make mobile browsers, cloud gaming and payments more competitive
    Investigation could help end WebKit monoculture on iOS devices

    The United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Friday said it intends to launch an investigation of Apple's and Google's market power with respect to mobile browsers and cloud gaming, and to take enforcement action against Google for its app store payment practices.

    "When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards," said Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, in a statement. "As good as many of their services and products are, their strong grip on mobile ecosystems allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the British tech sector and limiting choice."

    The decision to open a formal investigation follows the CMA's year-long study of the mobile ecosystem. The competition watchdog's findings have been published in a report that concludes Apple and Google have a duopoly that limits competition.

    Continue reading
  • Google offers $118m to settle gender discrimination lawsuit
    Don't even think about putting LaMDA on the compensation committee

    Google has promised to cough up $118 million to settle a years-long gender-discrimination class-action lawsuit that alleged the internet giant unfairly pays men more than women.

    The case, launched in 2017, was led by three women, Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri, who filed a complaint alleging the search giant hires women in lower-paying positions compared to men despite them having the same qualifications. Female staff are also less likely to get promoted, it was claimed.

    Gender discrimination also exists within the same job tier, too, the complaint stated. Google was accused of paying women less than their male counterparts despite them doing the same work. The lawsuit was later upgraded to a class-action status when a fourth woman, Heidi Lamar, joined as a plaintiff. The class is said to cover more than 15,000 people.

    Continue reading
  • Google: How we tackled this iPhone, Android spyware
    Watching people's every move and collecting their info – not on our watch, says web ads giant

    Spyware developed by Italian firm RCS Labs was used to target cellphones in Italy and Kazakhstan — in some cases with an assist from the victims' cellular network providers, according to Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG).

    RCS Labs customers include law-enforcement agencies worldwide, according to the vendor's website. It's one of more than 30 outfits Google researchers are tracking that sell exploits or surveillance capabilities to government-backed groups. And we're told this particular spyware runs on both iOS and Android phones.

    We understand this particular campaign of espionage involving RCS's spyware was documented last week by Lookout, which dubbed the toolkit "Hermit." We're told it is potentially capable of spying on the victims' chat apps, camera and microphone, contacts book and calendars, browser, and clipboard, and beam that info back to base. It's said that Italian authorities have used this tool in tackling corruption cases, and the Kazakh government has had its hands on it, too.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022