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Monday, July 6, 2009

Everything over IP

I am currently reading the book "The Illustrated Network, How TCP IP works in a modern network" by Walter Goralski. Here's a passage from the foreword which I found interesting:

Things move fast in the networking industry; technologies can go from cutting edge to obsolete in a decade or less (think ATM, frame relay, token ring, and FDDI among others). It is therefore amazing that TCP/IP is 35 years old and evolved from ideas originating in the early 1960s. Yet while the protocol invented by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn in 1973 has undergone—and continues to undergo—hundreds of enhancements and one version upgrade, its core functions are essentially the same as they were in the mid 1980s. TCP/IP’s antiquity, in an industry that unceremoniously discards technologies when something better comes along, is a testament to the protocol’s elegance and flexibility.

And there is no sign that IP is coming to the end of its useful life. To the contrary, so many new IP-capable applications, devices, and services are being added to networks every day that a newer version, IPv6, has become necessary to provide sufficient IP addresses into the foreseeable future. As this foreword is written, IPv6 is in the very early stages of deployment; readers will still be learning from this book when IPv6 is the only version most people know.

The story of how TCP/IP came to dominate the networking industry is well known. Cerf, Kahn, Jon Postel, and many others who contributed to the early development of TCP/IP did so as a part of their involvement in creating ARPANET, the predecessor of the modern Internet. The protocol stack became further embedded in the infant industry when it was integrated into Unix, making it popular with developers.

But its acceptance was far from assured in those early years. Organizations such as national governments and telcos were uncomfortable with the informal “give it a try and see what works” process of the Working Groups—primarily made up of enthusiastic graduate students—that eventually became the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Those cautious organizations wanted a networking protocol developed under a rigorous standardization process. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was tapped to develop a “mature” networking protocol suite, which was eventually to become the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI).

The ISO’s modus operandi of establishing dense, thorough standards and releasing them only in complete, production-ready form took time. Even strong OSI advocates began using TCP/IP as a temporary but working solution while waiting for the ISO standards committees to fi nish their work. By the time OSI was ready, TCP/IP was so widely deployed, proven, and understood that few network operators could justify undertaking a migration to something different.

OSI survives today mainly in a few artifacts such as IS–IS and the ubiquitous OSI reference model. TCP/IP, in the meantime, is becoming an almost universal communications transport protocol.

- Jeff Doyle

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