The Roots of the Interconnected Internet Are at University of Maryland

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NVTC’s Spring 2017 The Voice of Technology magazine cover story, “Past is Prologue,” highlighted the Internet2 networking consortium and its role in supporting the early stages of the Internet, as well as its continued impact in connecting universities, government agencies, libraries, healthcare organizations and corporations today.

As a follow up to the article, University of Maryland Associate Vice President for Corporate and Foundation Relations Brian Darmody discusses University of Maryland’s role in early Internet development below in their new member blog post.


Did you know the nation’s first Internet exchange point was established at the University of Maryland (UMD)?

UMD Blog v2UMD and UMD Professor Glenn Ricart played a strong role in the start of the interconnected Internet that we know of today. Prof. Ricart developed the nation’s first Internet exchange point at UMD in 1988, which connected the original federal TCP/IP networks and the first U.S. commercial and non-commercial networks. Arguably, this was the world’s first ISP as a commercial vendor joined the previously university-only network. This exchange point was called the Federal Internet Exchange (FIX), then FIX-East and then MAE-East.

Later, Prof. Ricart would go on to help UMD establish the nation’s first TCP/IP university campus-wide network.  For these and other accomplishments, Prof. Ricart was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2013.

Prof. Ricart’s early work in laying the foundation for the Internet continues today in the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads in the UMD Research Park, which is one of the nation’s most robust regional high-speed connectivity networks for research and service to K-12 schools, universities, nonprofits, federal research agencies and the private sector, including counties in Virginia, companies in D.C. and federal agencies in Maryland.

In 1994, UMD’s alumni magazine featured an article on the early work UMD did in computer networking in the 1980s, which featured one of the first computer messages that was delivered from UMD to George Washington University. It is interesting to read the article now given the ubiquity of computer networking today, but is a proud illustration of our region’s role in pioneering the early computer communications infrastructure. Check out the article below:

 

Internet Network Is Born (Fall 1994, UMD Alumni Magazine)

UMD Blog 1At the annual Computer Science Center Christmas party in 1986, the champagne glasses were clinking, the holiday music was humming and Jack Hahn, project director for the newly formed Southeastern University Research Association network (SURAnet), was “walking on air.” On that day, an electronic message was sent from the University of Maryland at College Park to George Washington University — the first on a network whose technology would become the model for what Hahn calls, “one of the most powerful intellectual tools that mankind has ever had at its fingertips.”

Although no one seems to recall just what that historic message was (“probably, something like ‘hey, is this thing working?’” says Hahn), the first few keystrokes were the culmination of years of work initiated by Glenn Ricart, director of the university’s Computer Science Center.

The idea was to link the 14 SURA institutions into a communications network so that information could be trans-ferred between academic departments on each campus. It was such a novel idea at the time that, when Ricart brought his proposal to the National Science Foundation, they couldn’t tell him which office to send it to. “Nobody had ever done a network like this before, and it wasn’t clear that this was science and how this would help science, so NSF really didn’t know what to do with it,” he says (the NSF ended up establishing an entire division for networking and computing and solicited similar proposals).

In the meantime, Ricart, Hahn, Mark Oros, network operations supervisor, and Mike Petry, manager of communication  software, retreated to the nondescript basement of the Computer and Space Sciences building and began wiring the circuits that would link an entire region.

By late spring of 1987, connections to the original SURAnet universities were up and running. Colleges and universities from other regions recognized a good thing and began flocking to College Park to see the new technology. The National Science Foundation then decided to link all the regional networks using something called “fuzzball technology” developed by Dave Mills, an adjunct professor at College Park, and the humble beginnings of what would become known as the present-day Internet were formed.

Hahn originally monitored the fledgling network from his basement. “I used to say SURAnet has a network information center and a network operations center — a nic and noc — and you’re talking to both of them,” he says.

Adding more universities, federal institutions and commercial networks, SURAnet grew too large to remain on campus and now employs 40 people in a “somewhat secret” location on Route 1 in College Park. Over 400 organizations across 13 states and the District of Columbia are supported by the network, ranging from the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Maryland to the U.S. Department of Natural Resources and state and local governments in the region.

 

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