Can you imagine life without the Internet? For some of us, it isn’t that hard – much of our childhood, adolescence and even young adulthood did not play out over broadband. We knew how to use a rotary dial phone, the phone book and encyclopedias. But let’s face it, as much as we may like to be nostalgic, finding information and staying connected is much easier in a world where web-scale networking is an important focus.
Interestingly enough, these benefits aren’t necessarily what drove the innovation that led to the creation of the Internet. According to a FedTech Magazine piece, the demand for a fast network of supercomputers for researchers by the National Science Foundation served as the bridge between ARPANET and the Internet. While most of us are familiar with the role the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) played in the development of ARPANET, hats off to a lesser-known federal project as well.
The purpose of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) was to help U.S. research scientists to collaborate. It also served as a crucial link between ARPANET and the commercial networks that provided the foundation of the early public Internet. NSFNET provided the baseline for the technical underpinnings of modern networks, paving the way for web-scale networking to enable faster Internet transmission technologies.
The funding for supercomputing centers was established in 1985. Supercomputers were very costly at the time (and still are) and part of the motivation for NSFNET was to share these resources across a wide community. As a result, scientists could regularly access resources either in collaboration or remotely. Internet Protocol (IP) was one of the communication protocols, borrowed from ARPANET, and Ethernet was also in place, both very revolutionary for the time.
While this access and this work was revolutionary, the commercial sector was already well on its way to the development of web-scale networking and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were building out their resources. However, while the source code for the World Wide Web was released in 1993, it was not widely used but was on a path for growth. Eventually, the community of users on NSFNET started to split away to local ISPs and regional networks.
Eventually, the need for instant access and web-scale networking led beyond what NSFNET could find in the systems built, but it did provide the necessary groundwork for the systems we’ve come to rely on today.
Edited by Maurice Nagle