Early internet pioneer Jack Haverty has described the early structure of the internet as experimental – and said not much has changed since.
Haverty was a protégé of Professor JCR Licklider in the early ’70s, when he worked on the then brand new ARPANET. He is widely credited with developing File Transfer Protocol, the RFC format still used for internet standards, and one of the world’s first email systems. A contemporary of the likes of Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, Haverty later joined Oracle in the ’90s and worked alongside folks like Tim Berners-Lee, establishing linkages between web servers and databases.
TCP had become a standard. Our immediate reaction was ‘Wait: it’s not done yet’
The way Haverty told it, that process was deeply inelegant, with many efforts being abandoned and others set in stone without much notice.
And yesterday he delivered a keynote speech at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies (APRICOT). He reminisced that the internet as we know it came to be sometime around the end of 1981, when attention shifted to network operation and making internetworking technology that could provide a reliable 24/7 service.
“At one of the quarterly meetings Vint Cerf came in and dropped a bombshell on us: he said TCP had become a standard. Our immediate reaction, or at least my reaction, was ‘Wait: it’s not done yet. We have this long list of things we still have to figure out’,” Haverty recalled in his speech.
The technology was out of developers’ hands before they felt ready to let it go.
Haverty said the teams he worked with always expected to fix and polish their work – not just build on top of what he referred to as an “experiment.”
“There’s all sorts of operational issues that we went through and developed but they haven’t made it into the real world,” he said.
In a subsequent role as internet architect at Oracle, Haverty found himself working to add resilience to TCP, which at the time interpreted slow data transfers as unwanted duplicates.
Since leaving Oracle, he’s become, by his own description, just a user.
“I’m now just one of billions of users. So I don’t really know what’s going on inside the networks now and I haven’t really paid much attention literally for several decades,” said Haverty.
After a friend elicited his help for a poorly functioning app, he started looking at how the modern internet works.
“We found, much to my surprise, that things like TCP dump, Wireshark, Ping and Traceroute and all those kind of tools that I used to use back in the ’80s and ’90s still work,” said Haverty.
And his friend’s problem? Data travelling long distances arrived at varying speeds, wreaking havoc on the app’s ability to function – the same problem he encountered at Oracle.
“The conclusion I draw from all this is the internet is amazing. None of us ever thought that it could possibly last this long or grow this big,” said Haverty, who then added his major point: that just like 50 years ago, the internet should all just work, but the reality is it still doesn’t.
“There’s still a long list of things that have to get done,” he said. Some, such as refinements to TCP he was keen on in the 1990s, remain placeholders.
The entire speech can be viewed below. ®