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History-in-the-making at Boelter Hall



     The Internet arguably has  become the most far-reaching of the Cold War technologies. It already has left its global imprint on human history, transforming the way people communicate, recreate, learn and do business.

      The seed of the complex infrastructure that triggered a communications revolution germinated 30 years ago on a Labor Day Weekend in a room in Boelter  Hall. That's when the first bits of information flowed between a refrigerator-sized machine, dubbed an Interface Message Processor (IMP), and a host computer sitting just a few yards away.

      What the forward-thinking scientists witnessed that day went far beyond the annointment of UCLA as the first node on a new computer network. Yet even the chief innovator of the project, Leonard  Kleinrock, professor of computer science, could not totally conceive of the global repercussions this event would trigger.

      "At its most basic level, it was simply an engineering project to get computers to talk to each other," Kleinrock recalled.

      But even 30 years ago, he had a glimpse of its power. Said Kleinrock in a UCLA press release in 1969 announcing the project: "As of now, computer networks are  still in their infancy. But as they grow up and become more sophisticated, we will probably see the spread of 'computer utilities,' which, like present electric and  telephone utilities, will service individual homes and offices across the country."

     Said Kleinrock recently, "What I did not conceive of then was that my  92-year-old mother would be using the Internet today. I had no idea it would become omnipresent. Back then, no one really understood the social impact it would have or what it would mean to our economy."

      To understand the story of the birth of the Internet, step back 40 years to an event that stunned America and sent two nations racing to their labs to pioneer space and technological advances.

      Launched by the Soviet Union on Oct. 4, 1957, to measure the density of the upper atmosphere and send radio signals to Earth, Sputnik 1, the first man

Internet pioneers Vinton Cerf (from left), Robert Kahn, UCLA's Leonard Kleinrock and Lawrence Roberts with the IMP.


-made satellite, caught Americans by surprise. To bolster U.S. technological superiority, an embarrassed President Dwight Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

      ARPA began focusing on computer networking in the early 1960s when it recruited MIT visionary J.C.R. Licklider. In a 1963 memo to "Members and Affiliates of the  Intergalactic Computer Network," Licklider theorized that a computer network could help researchers share information and even enable people with common interests to interact online.

      But Licklider had no idea how to build such a network, although Kleinrock had already published the groundbreaking theory that would make this a reality two years earlier.

      "Lick was among the first to perceive the spirit of community created among the users of the first time-sharing systems," recalled Lawrence G. Roberts, a computer networking pioneer who joined ARPA in 1966.

     Licklider convinced his successor at ARPA, Ivan Sutherland, that the concept for an intercomputer connection should be developed. The contract went to  Roberts at MIT in 1965. Three years later, ARPA accepted the plan, written up by Roberts, and funded it for $3.4 million.

       Roberts and a colleague had created the first transcontinental network between two computers, but they realized that circuit-switched phone systems were  inadequate. Roberts became convinced, because of the work of Kleinrock, a classmate at MIT, that packet switching was the perfect technology for data networks.

      A classic telephone system relies on circuit switching, with a dedicated circuit established for each call. The data, or voices of the callers, reach their destination  in one piece and in the correct order. In contrast, packet switching breaks data into different sized packets and sends them via any of a number of available routes. The  data are then reassembled in the correct order at the destination.

     For example, data from a single e-mail sent between adjacent office buildings  might travel down the block, across town or around the world before reassembling at the recipient's "in" box. Packet switching is more efficient because a circuit needs to be held open only when data actually move through the wire.

      As an MIT graduate student, Kleinrock  published the first paper on packet switching in 1961. He laid out the theoretical underpinnings of packet switching,  proposed the concept of distributed control and introduced what became the assumption that made the Internet possible.

      "This assumption basically took what was considered at that time to be highly intractable mathematical problems in analyzing the store-and-forward networks to a  straightforward engineering problem," said A. R. Frank Wazzan, dean of UCLA's School of Engineering and Applied Science. "This assumption has been used in  the design and analysis of virtually all of the computer communication networks that have been constructed since then." Kleinrock proved his theory was correct with an extensive simulation of packet networks.

      To create these packet switches, IMPs, scientists at Cambridge, Mass.-based Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) decided to adapt a Honeywell DDP-516, one of  the most powerful computers available and built to rigorous military specifications. Honeywell once demonstrated its durability at a computer conference by  suspending the machine from hooks and having a burly fellow pound on it with a sledgehammer.

     Meanwhile, Roberts, familiar with Kleinrock's fundamental role in establishing  data networking technology, selected UCLA to become the first node on the fledgling network. Kleinrock was now a professor at UCLA; among the graduate students on the 40-person UCLA development team were computer networking  pioneers Vinton Cerf, Steve Crocker and Jon Postel.

     The IMP arrived on campus as scheduled on Labor Day, along with a visiting  contingent of scientists and communications experts. They joined UCLA administrators and most of the Computer Science Department. Kleinrock's team was ready.

      Bits began moving from the IMP to the host computer that same day. A month later, the second node was added at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and the UCLA team sent the first host-to-host message.

     The programmers in Westwood were to type "log" into their computer, with the SRI computer in Palo Alto filling out the rest of the command, adding "in."

      "We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI," Kleinrock recalled. "We typed the L, and we asked on the phone, 'Do you see the L?' 'Yes,  we see the L,' came the response. We typed the O, and we asked, 'Do you see the O?' 'Yes, we see the O.' Then we typed the G, and the system crashed!" They immediately rebooted and this time, ARPANET sprung to life.

      With the network operational, many of the ARPA-supported scientists began to fear that outsiders would tap into their "private" computers. Kleinrock recalls  having to convince a number of suddenly reluctant researchers that the network would be a boon for everyone involved.

     By December 1969, UCLA, SRI, UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah  were connected. As head of the ARPANET Measurement Center at UCLA, Kleinrock was assigned to stress the network to its limits and expose its faults. In those early days, he could crash the network at will, identifying and repairing  serious flaws that were curiously nicknamed  "Christmas Lockup" and "Piggyback Lockup."

     Spiraling interest in the ARPANET highlighted a key technological shortcoming.  Network Control Protocol (NCP), the standardized software that enabled the network's computers to communicate, would soon be unable to meet the increasing  demand, although NCP could handle a moderate number of different networks.  Robert Kahn, a forefather of the Internet,  recognized that all networks should talk to each other and communicate through a standard protocol.

     So Kahn asked Cerf, who by now had joined Stanford's faculty, to help. Together, they developed a protocol with standardized error detection, packaging  and routing features. With their Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) architecture in place, anyone with the technological know-how could  hook up to the ARPANET and its rapidly expanding complex of networks, fast becoming known as the Internet.

     In 1989, while working at CERN, the Swiss-based European Laboratory for  Particle Physics, Tim Berners-Lee proposed a new protocol for communication. He toyed with calling it "Information Mesh" or "Mine of Information." But what he  finally settled on was "World Wide Web," a protocol based on hypertext, a system of links embedded within text. It is the concept that continues to drive the connectivity of the Internet today.

      As innovation built upon invention through the '80s, Apple and IBM introduced personal computers to offices and homes nationwide; eager engineers,  supported by shrewd venture capitalists, began to grow America's computer industry. With momentum building and spinning forward at lightning speed, Internet users scarcely noticed an event that passed into history.

      In 1989, the same year that Kleinrock organized a symposium at UCLA to celebrate the Internet's 20th anniversary, ARPANET was formally shut down.

      For the Internet, no such ending is in sight.

     "This is not the end of a phenomenon that we're celebrating," said Chancellor  Albert Carnesale in opening the campus symposium on the 30th anniversary of the Internet's birth. "We're celebrating the 30th anniversary of its beginning. To the  extent that it's within our power, UCLA will remain at the forefront of this revolution for our students."

Copyright 1999 UC Regents
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