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The Networked World - 25th Anniversary
John Cioffi | Bob Metcalfe | Vint Cerf | Vic Hayes | Radia Perlman | Martin Cooper | Tim Berners-Lee

Living Legend: Vint Cerf on the Internet and out-of-this-world communications

Vint Cerf wants to build the interplanetary Internet

By , Network World
May 09, 2011 06:02 AM ET
Vint Cerf

Network World - Vint Cerf is one of the most recognized network engineers of all time. He is often referred to as one of the "fathers of the Internet" for his groundbreaking work as a co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. He shares that title with colleague Robert E. Kahn. The two have been granted many prestigious awards for helping to build a technology that has arguably altered the course of human history more than any other. 

Honors heaped upon Cerf include the U.S. National Medal of Technology and the ACM Alan M. Turing award, the latter often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Computer Science. In addition to his role in building the Internet, Cerf is known for his decades of elbow grease of developing it, working at DARPA and then leading the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as chairman of the board from 2000-2007. He has participated in numerous other such organizations and as of 2011, his work is far from done. As Chief Internet Evangelist for today's 800-pound-gorilla, Google, Cerf is involved in projects that will extend the Internet's reach within our homes and beyond Earth.

See Network World's 25th anniversary package with the other living legends of the tech industry

When you began, did you have a sense of how important your technology would become to the world?

I was a grad student at UCLA when a Request For Quotation was issued by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, for development of a packet switching network. Because of his early work on the statistical properties of message switching, Leonard Kleinrock, a member of the UCLA faculty, proposed to develop and operate a Network Measurement Center where measurements of the packet network would be made to test the predictive power of the queuing models that Kleinrock and his students were developing.

The first node of the ARPANET was installed at UCLA in September 1969. By the end of 1969 a four-node network had been established: UCLA, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Robert Kahn, one of the architects of the ARPANET, came to UCLA with his associate, David Walden, to run performance tests on the small network and to test theories that under certain conditions, the network could be made to "lock up."

I became the principal programmer for the Network Measurement Center run by Dr. Kleinrock. By 1972, the ARPANET had grown to about two dozen sites and had been publicly demonstrated at the International Conference on Computer Communication (ICCC). By that time, Douglas Engelbart's oN-Line System (NLS) was operating on the ARPANET and offered an extremely interactive, collaborative document creation, storage and retrieval. Electronic mail had been developed in 1971 or 1972. We were seeing 20 years into the future. Moreover, Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center had developed Ethernet in 1973 at the same time my colleagues and I were working on the Internet.

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