Friday, July 7, 2023

Ethernet at 50

Iljitsch Van Beijnum (via Dave Nanian):

But in the end it was Ethernet that won the battle for LAN standardization through a combination of standards body politics and a clever, minimalist—and thus cheap to implement—design. It went on to obliterate the competition by seeking out and assimilating higher bitrate protocols and adding their technological distinctiveness to its own. Decades later, it had become ubiquitous.

If you’ve ever looked at the network cable protruding from your computer and wondered how Ethernet got started, how it has lasted so long, and how it works, wonder no more: here’s the story.

Om Malik:

There must be something to this whole notion that “time flies!” I distinctly remember writing a short essay about the incredible adaptability of the Ethernet, the technology protocol, on the 31st birthday of the technology that came from Bob Metcalfe’s work at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s. Metcalfe and David Boggs (who passed away in 2022) invented the Ethernet. It was inspired by ALOHANet, a packet radio network used to communicate among the Hawaiian Islands.

It just turned 50 years old — remarkably, it still powers our networks into the future. That is some serious resilience and longevity — no wonder (belatedly, in my opinion) Metcalfe got the 2022 Turing Award. In 1973, Metcalfe wrote a memo on a “broadcast communication network” linking personal computers (PARC Altos) to create a local network that moved data at 2.94 Mbps per second. In 1976, the follow-up work on the memo led to the publication of the seminal paper “Ethernet: Distributed Packet Switching for Local Computer Networks.”

Update (2023-11-20): Joanna Goodrich (via Hacker News):

The PARC facility also is known for the invention of Ethernet, a networking technology that allows high-speed data transmission over coaxial cables. Ethernet has become the standard wired local area network around the world, and it is widely used in businesses and homes. It was honored this year as an IEEE Milestone, a half century after it was born.


Currently, the IEEE 802 family consists of 67 published standards, with 49 projects under development. The committee works with standards agencies worldwide to publish certain IEEE 802 standards as international guidelines.

A plaque recognizing the technology will be displayed outside the PARC facility.

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Samuel Herschbein

In 1986 I worked for a subsidiary of BBN, who implemented ARPANET, predecessor to the Internet. We had ThickNet (10Base5) below the old computer room raised flooring. Tapping into ThickNet was a royal PITA. We also had Apollo Domain Token Ring, basically a proprietary ThinNet (10Base2). At my next job I laid ThinNet in ceilings throughout a building, another PITA. I was so glad when 10BaseT (Ethernet over twisted pair) became a reality.

In the 1960s, a lot of educational institutions thought that video instruction would be the future of the classroom, so they ran cable in new buildings and retrofit older ones.
As it turned out, as with most such educational technology fads, cable television wasn't the game changer a lot of people expected. On the plus side, when it came to wiring classrooms, labs and office with ethernet, the hard work was already done.

This happened with cable internet to the home. Isn't the base protocol MPEG, so when one streams video, it's MPEG over TCP/IP over MPEG. It's almost biological the way things can be repurposed.

I particularly enjoyed this article about the anniversary:

This anecdote was my favorite:

> The speed of propagation of electrical charge through a conductor is a related value; it, too, has been the subject of intense experimentation. Perhaps the most bizarre experiment was conducted in Paris, in April 1746, by Jean-Antoine Nollet. Using a snaking line of some 200 monks connected by a mile-long iron wire, Nollet observed their reactions when he administered a powerful electric current through the wire. The simultaneous screams of the monks demonstrated that, as far as Nollet could tell, voltage was transmitted through a conductor “instantaneously.”

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