Explosive Internet growth in the late 1990s dramatically affected the evolution of computer networking. Some new network technologies and initiatives boomed but quickly faded into oblivion. Others have stood the test of time.

Below I've highlighted my picks for the top movers and shakers in computer networking over this stretch of "Internet time."





High-speed home networking struggled to get off the ground in 1997 and 1998. Cable modem was the first broadband option available to many, but only a few hundred thousand subscribed to Internet cable in that first year. In 1999, competition from DSL kicked in, but DSL availability remained quite limited at first. The expected competition from satellite services did not emerge until later, and even today, satellite services remain a distant third in the home broadband market.


It took until 2001 for home broadband to enter mainstream usage and begin growing at a faster rate than Internet dial-up services. Although the networking industry continues to promote broadband as the future pathway to new and exciting Internet applications, tens of millions of U.S. households remain on dial-up. The spirited battle between cable and DSL also continues.


Although many in the industry remain disappointed in the slow adoption rate of home broadband, initial concerns over a) reliability of DSL, b) security of cable modem, c) broadband accessiblity in rural areas, and d) viability of the broadband service providers, have all largely been addressed. The future of home broadband appears quite promising.





A 19 year-old student named Shawn Fanning dropped out of college in 1999 to build a piece of software called Napster. Within a few months, Napster became one of the most popular software applications of all time. People all over the world regularly logged into Napster to freely swap music files in the MP3 digital format. Some proclaimed Napster "revolutionary." It certainly created a large stir in the industry press.


Users invested large amounts of time and energy in Napster. They also consumed big chunks of network bandwidth. Some universities and businesses reacted by banning or blocking Napster to keep their networks stable, generating even more controversy.

Napster was built using a network design technique called peer-to-peer (P2P). Though peer networking had existed for decades, Napster generated a new wave of interest in P2P. Many startup and some established companies jumped on the P2P bandwagon, activitely promoting new or rehashed, generally unproven business opportunities based on this technology.


Both Napster and corporate P2P have rapidly faded into obscurity. Napster faced the wrath of the music industry establishment, who claimed that open music file sharing violated copyright laws. The legal process moved slowly, but eventually the courts shut Napster down. Corporate interest in P2P suffered a similar fate. The allure of Napster proved to be its openness, not its network architecture, and initiatives to create comparable paid services have all stuggled mightily to get off the ground.





Score one for the Open Source movement. Since 1996, and despite formidable competition from the likes of Microsoft, Apache has remained the world's most popular Web server by a wide margin. Web site owners frequently choose Apache for its reliability, performance and zero cost. Apache works well not only for "mom-and-pop" sites but also supports some of the busiest Web sites on the Internet.


Today, Apache has expanded well beyond its original roots as a mere HTTP server to support numerous new Internet technologies including Web Services. Apache should remain a key Internet technology for years to come.



CISCO - Most Valuable Company in the World?


Cisco Systems has long been recognized as a leading producer of networking gear, best known for their high-end routers. Even back in 1998, Cisco boasted multi-billion dollar revenues and employed more than 10,000 people.


Cisco grew exceptionally fast during the Internet boom. For a brief time, in fact, Cisco reached the ultimate level of corporate prominence. In late March 2000, Cisco achieved a stock market capitalization (valuation) of more than $550 million. That officialy made Cisco the single most valuable corporation in the world at that time - literally, a "Fortune 1" company.


When the stock market bubble burst, however, Cisco lost more than 80% of it's market cap and now clings to a spot in bottom of the Fortune 100. Cisco proved to be wildly overvalued and could not sustain its growth rate. Nonetheless, Cisco continues to produce high-quality gear and remains a powerful force in the networking industry.





The general public had never heard of network sniffers until the U.S Goverment revealed details of a system code-named "Carnivore" in 2000. Carnivore was a customized Windows PC running network sniffer software developed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the late 1990s, the FBI installed Carnivore boxes on networks of several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to help in certain criminal investigations (mainly of drug traffickers).


Privacy advocates, some ISPs, and others expressed outrage over Carnivore. Concerns over Carnivore gradually have faded away, however, as people gained a greater understanding of network sniffer technology. Turns out that Carnivore is no more of a privacy threat than numerous others... particularly the fabled Echelon system.



IPv6 - No More Address Space


The Internet grew extremely quickly in the mid-1990s. Had the pace continued, ISPs could theoretically have run out of IP addresses to assign to customers, effectively blocking any more people from getting on the Net. Speculation grew that the Net would need to make an emergency switchover from IPv4 to the new IPv6. IPv6, the next generation Internet Protocol, uses much larger address numbers and can accommodate all of the Net's future growth.


Several changes occured in the late 1990s, however, that prevented an impending "address crisis." An improved routing technology called CIDR was successfully deployed, helping ISPs better manage their IP addresses. In addition, network appliances failed to materialize. Had the ideas around appliances materialized, everyone's toasters, ovens and televisions would each have been given their own IP address on the Internet in order to communicate and do wonderful things. It didn't happen.


Although the Internet doesn't have much need for IPv6 today, expect this technology to make a revival in the coming years.





We've all become much smarter about computer networking as the past few years of Internet time have passed. Expect the next five years to also bring their share of surprises and advances.



• Broadband Resources
• P2P Resources
• Apache Resources
• Carnivore and Echelon Resources
• IPv6 Resources  




Computer Networking Pentagon Pushes Next Version of IP Carnivore, Sniffers, And You - Computer Networking Computer Networking Content Archive - Columns Articles ... Newsletter Archive -- Hosting - Jobs and Pay - Monitori








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