MENLO PARK, CA—September 16, 2009—Forty years ago this October, two computers connected to form the ARPANET and launch the world's first successful packet-switched wide area computer network. This first connection, in the form of a logon request, was sent to SRI International (then known as Stanford Research Institute) from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). This remote access initiated a new, flexibly formed network structure for computer resource sharing. While not yet an internet, it did lay critical groundwork for the subsequent Internet and the dramatic changes in how we conduct business, communicate, socialize, learn, distribute knowledge, and travel. Internetworking began in 1977, when SRI also played an important role in the first use of the present internet transport protocol to connect three dissimilar networks.
A plaque commemorating the 40th anniversary of this first transmission will be presented today to SRI at an IEEE 125th anniversary event held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. IEEE is the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology in the electronics and communications field.
“The 1969 event marked a new era in computer networking that began the path toward the Internet,” said William Mark, SRI's vice president of information and computing sciences. “SRI has solved complex technical challenges in computing and communications since the beginning, and we continue to pioneer groundbreaking technologies today.”
The ARPANET and Beyond
The U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, then known as ARPA) began the work that led to the ARPANET in the mid 1960s. A major goal was to create a reliable computer network with built-in network redundancy that would provide reliable communications between its major nodes as well as remote access to these same computing resources, even when parts of the network might fail.
The initial ARPANET was a network of just four computers located at four different sites: first UCLA and SRI, followed by the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Utah. By 1972, the ARPANET comprised 37 computers. In the ensuing years it was opened to other research and development sites including other universities, research contractors, and government labs. Its usefulness as a platform for the new world of digital communications and information sharing soon became evident.
Over a relatively short time the ARPANET became an indispensable, nationwide communications network across the military R&D communities of both the U.S. and a few allies. But before it moved beyond the military R&D world, the ARPANET had to be adapted to serve our worldwide military operations. That meant not just wire but also radio and satellite-based adjunct networks had to be created. It was in this diversity of networks, whose interfaces were to be transparent to the end user, that internetworking was born. That innovation led to new internet protocols being required of all participating networks, including the ARPANET.
Finally, because of its digital design and its resilient and scalable qualities, the popularity of this new way to integrate networks extended beyond its military relevance. With a plethora of innovative applications and the burgeoning digital revolution, this technology soon spanned the university sector and eventually the commercial world.
Since that historic ARPANET event 40 years ago, SRI has continued to play a significant role in the evolution of computing, the Internet, and communications, including participating in the first use of the new internetworking protocol across three separate networks in 1977 and managing the Network Information Center, or NIC, for more than two decades. The SRI NIC assigned domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses until that role was transferred to other government and commercial entities in 1991. The governance of that process fell to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) in 1998.
SRI plans to install the IEEE commemorative plaque at its main visitor entrance at its corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
Some of the information included in this press release references A Heritage of Innovation: SRI’s First Half Century, by Donald L. Nielson.