• United States

Network World reporters reflect on their favorite moment

May 09, 201120 mins
Data CenterMicrosoftPhishing

Things were zany in the tech industry before the bubble burst. We take a look back at the past 25 years worth of reporting.

Reporters and editors talk about their favorite moment as a journalist in the technology field.

Network World was created in the spring of 1986 as a newsweekly to serve the blossoming network industry, to help shape the next big wave of technology driven by the need to interconnect information systems. A slew of new companies were emerging to aid in that effort and IT decision makers were struggling to put network technology to work for their companies.

Networking was the Wild West 25 years ago. There were multiple flavors of every net tech, endless incompatibility problems, competing standards, and broad uncertainty about which road would lead to the future. On the LAN side alone, for example, there were questions about broadband vs. baseband, Ethernet, Token Ring or StarLAN? And should data traffic be migrated to the voice network or vice versa?

Today many of the basic issues have been resolved, but every turn on the journey seems to reveal yet another way that networking can change the enterprise, indeed, the world. Here are a few memories from Network World staff members that have played a role in our 25-year history:

Read the entire 25th anniversary package

A sobering moment

John Gallant

By John Gallant

Over the course of two and a half decades with Network World (beginning as managing editor with our launch issue in 1986), there have been many terrific memories as our publication grew and the industry we chronicled expanded by leaps and bounds. But one experience stands out above all the others, and resonates especially today in light of the recent news of the death of Osama Bin Laden.

On Sept. 11, 2001, many of the writers, sales executives and other employees of Network World were attending NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta. I had just finished a breakfast meeting and was headed back to my room to check email when I passed a television set in the hotel where I was staying. The first tower at the World Trade Center had been hit by a hijacked plane, although the newscaster didn’t know it at the time. I was transfixed. Watching the tower burning, the even more startling news came out: Another plane had crashed into the second tower. Soon, the frightening reality became all too clear: America was under attack.

I left the hotel and headed to the convention center across from CNN’s headquarters, where I had been scheduled to meet with the CEO of a top security software company. I went to the company’s booth and the CEO and I quickly agreed there were more important things to do than discuss the everyday topics of product strategy and market directions. Network World staffers gathered at our booth on the conference floor. N+I attendees stood riveted to TV sets broadcasting in other booths trying to digest the news of an attack on the Pentagon and another plane down in Pennsylvania. People were pale, shaken. Some cried as they feared for colleagues in New York or Washington, D.C. The mood was somber,  the normal hubbub of a bustling convention silenced. Shocked out of routines, each of us wondered what we were supposed to do as the entire nation struggled to come to grips with events beyond our experience and understanding. (More than a few showgoers wondered out loud whether we should abandon the convention center in fear that it might too be a target.)

A handful of colleagues took charge, reaching out to customers to cancel a major Network World party planned for that evening and turning into an employee-only gathering. I’ve never been so happy to be in the company of co-workers. As we ate and drank and talked nervously that night, everyone worried about family and loved ones, but was comforted by the presence of colleagues. A charter bus was procured and, early on the morning of Sept. 12, nearly 50 Network Worlders and some customers and other friends pulled out of Atlanta for the 20+-hour drive back to our offices in Southboro, Mass. We waved as other colleagues headed off in rental cars for the West Coast.

As the bus rolled up the eastern seaboard, we watched movies, played cards, ate and drank. Somewhere, at a truck stop in Virginia, I had my first Krispy Kreme doughnut. We laughed and joked, until another news report or a quick glance at the newspapers  – with the horror and devastation of the attacks emblazoned across their front pages – reminded us of why were all together, sobering us up quickly. Like people everywhere, we were unsettled, anxious, confused. It was eerie to note that not a single plane passed overhead the entire trip. We were on one very strange field trip, the likes of which none of us will ever be involved with again.

Early in the morning of the 13th, we arrived at Network World’s parking lot. We hugged and shook hands and headed off alone to our cars or cabs to finally get home and see our families. But as I drove off, I was deeply grateful to have been with my extended Network World family at a time when no one in America wanted to be alone.

Grilling Bob Woodward

By Neal Weinberg

It was somewhat of a surreal experience, sitting in a cramped room in the Coronado Springs Resort on the grounds of Disney World in Orlando, talking spooks and hacks with Bob Woodward. He was the keynoter at a security conference I was attending – basically hawking his latest book. There was a 15-minute press conference prior to his speech, and while there were a bunch of PR people in the room, I was the only reporter. We ended up having pretty much a one-on-one conversation.

I went straight for the jugular and asked him how Deep Throat was doing, health-wise. (This was, of course, before Deep Throat passed away and his identity revealed.) Woodward comes across as a Midwesterner, despite having lived in D.C. for so long. His speech is very slow, very precise, very flat, every syllable is drawn out and enunciated. It’s like he’s typing quotes in his head as he talks. Of course, he revealed nothing about Deep Throat.

We quickly moved onto security issues and he seemed worried about people being able to hack into his home office.  I was giving him tips on how to avoid these new things called phishing attacks. He was way ahead of me – his concern was about hackers being able to tap into the wires running to and from his computer and to extract information from the electrical current. This was a little over my head. Although I saw a demo at this year’s RSA show where a company was able to do something along those lines.

Anyway, after the show, I got an email from one of his aides, asking for a comp subscription to Network World. So, if you’re reading this, Bob, keep up the good work and keep filling out that qual card.

Sumo wrestling

By Keith Shaw

Most of the time when you’d go to Interop, the show floor was pretty dull (at least compared to consumer shows like CES or the E3 video game show). But in 2000, at the height of the Internet tech bubble, there was lots of flashy displays and booths, even at Interop. That year, a company hired WWE wrestler Mankind (Mick Foley) and built an inflatable wrestling ring in the middle of their booth. They would pick people out of the crowd to get into giant Sumo wrestling outfits (again, inflatable), and Foley would referee the match between the two.

The PR person for the vendor (probably looking for positive NW coverage) asked me and another tech writer if we wanted to be “picked” for the next event, and we agreed. It was a blast, especially when Foley picked me up and threw me into my friend.

The vendor quickly went out of business like a lot of others that suffered through the bubble burst, but at least we had fun during those days.

Put up your dukes

By Phil Hochmuth

In his best-selling cookbook, celebrity chef/author and Anthony Bourdain writes: “What is in an authentic bouillabaisse? That’s an invitation for a fist fight, if there ever was one.” This recalls for me one of the most enjoyable aspects of covering enterprise networking, VoIP and open source at Network World for almost nine years: writing pieces which got technologists, vendors and industry watchers to mix it up over the techno nitty-gritty. Is Cisco EthernetChannel authentic Ethernet? Is your VoIP network pure SIP (and should it be?). If the Big Switch announced at Interop this year has a 100G bit/sec backplane, but only 8G bit/sec of line card bandwidth, what is the point exactly? Modular or stackable? Discuss.

Evoking verbal/virtual fisticuffs among Network World’s readership was good fun (if not stressful on the e-mail inbox), but not entirely the point. The most satisfying aspect of writing for Network World was when a piece covering a standards debate, architecture argument or protocol war resulted in a thoughtful dialogue among the makers and users of network technology. And I like to think we helped move the industry forward. Of course, covering the evolution of Linux and open source took this to another level. Writing about Linux — once a hobbyist’s university project, now world-class computer operating system ― always invited passionate commentary, if not colorful language. (Thinking back, I actually did receive something pretty close to a fistfight RSVP once … something about KDE having nothing on GNOME).

Overall, the most interesting articles to write were user stories — and not the vendor press-release, case-study kind, but the stories which chronicled the messy, complicated work of a network overhaul, an incumbent vendor’s displacement by a startup, or an ambitious migration from a legacy tech to the bleeding edge. Eight hundred pound gorillas don’t often have their lunch stolen by a three-pound monkey on customer deals; but it’s a fascinating to write about when it happens. (Not that I was trying to start anything).  

Lying down on the job

By Bob Brown

My most memorable moment came the day I interviewed for a job as a writer at Network World in the late 1980s. The editor at the time had a very bad back and literally lied down in a bed in his office to help alleviate the pain.

Maybe it was a sign of things to come. In the 20-plus years I’ve been with Network World, we’ve covered a long list of strange bedfellows, including Novell and Microsoft, and now it’s not uncommon at all for people to bring their laptops and smartphones to bed with them, or work at home in their pajamas….or less. 

A chilling experience

By Julie Bort

I joined Network World as an editor in 1999 to work on special issues. One of these was the You Issue which featured, among other profiles of readers, a series about network managers who worked in unusual places ( a series called You Work Where?). For our inaugural You Issue, someone nominated David Birch to be profiled, aka the Computer Guy of Nunavik, and a few months into my new job, I found myself on a series of (increasingly smaller) planes that eventually dropped me off on the edge of a tiny town in the Canadian Arctic Circle. Although small by U.S. standards, the town of Kuujjuaq (pronounced KEW-ju-ack), was the largest city in the Nunavik region in Arctic Quebec. It had a few dozen streets, a store, a hotel and restaurant and a bar.  

It was May, 1999, before the snowmelt. Birch had told me that the worst of winter was over and that I would only need a leather jacket. Although I lived in a cold region myself at the time, a ski town in the Colorado Rockies at 9,000 feet, I wasn’t prepared for the kind of cold that spring in the Artic could be. I spent three days in Kuujjuaq (it was serviced by two flights a week). Birch transported me around town on the back of a snowmobile – roads being something  impractical for those who lived mostly on ice – while I wore his wife’s winter coat, made of seal fur.  

The place was beautiful, magical. It was daylight until nearly midnight and then the sky glowed with the Northern Lights. One day, looking for a good spot for a photo shoot, we drove out North, “onto the land” as Birch called it. Since I live at altitude, I regularly find myself hiking or skiing above tree line where mighty pines grow dwarfed and then refuse to grow at all. That day I stood staring at the polar tree line, which looked Dr. Seuss-like to me, in that  familiar-yet-odd way. The trees grew smaller and then stopped, but the land didn’t rise, instead it stretched endlessly away in flatness. I can now claim I’ve been to both tree lines, and if I ever got the chance, I would go back. But I’d pack a much warmer coat.  

Sticks and stones …

By Paul McNamara

Having written Network World’s ‘Net Buzz column (dead-tree edition) since March 1, 1999 and my blog, Buzzblog, since Jan. 31, 2006, I have developed something of a love-hate relationship with that subset of readers who comment on my work.

The vast majority of these readers – you, for example – provide well-reasoned opposing viewpoints, enlightening insights, and constructive criticism, all the while maintaining an exemplary level of civility.

Others provide none of that, only in more words and with multiple exclamation marks.

And a few fall in between, such as this comment about the aesthetics of the print column that arrived via e-mail: “Don’t you think you should get a new picture of yourself on the back page of Network World? It makes your head look like a potato.”

I’ve been called a lot of things a lot of times, but only once have I been called Mr. Potato Head.

That was February 2002.

Almost a decade later, the picture is still the same. My head, in particular, the hair atop it, is not.

Perhaps the time has come.

A different kind of VPN

By Tim Greene

I recall one Friday afternoon in 1996 about 4:30 p.m. Eastern when a Microsoft representative called me up to tell me that Microsoft was going to support virtual private networks. To that point, VPN was a telecom term used to describe a service that connected any group of telephones into what behaved as a private phone network but that was set up and maintained within the carrier’s network. What Microsoft described was completely different.

Its VPN – using point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) – established secure connections across the Internet so it could be used as an alternative to dialup for remote access. Users would dial a local number to an ISP, which would authenticate the user and establish a PPTP tunnel to the user’s corporate remote access server. The remote computer would send traffic to the ISP via point-to-point protocol, which the ISP would convert to PPTP.

The upside for businesses was that they’d no longer have to make toll calls for remote access, just local calls to an ISP that supported PPTP.

That first introduction to a technology that would become a mainstay of both remote access and WAN connectivity didn’t go as smoothly as it might have. I spent a good deal of time telling the Microsoft representative that what they were describing was not a VPN, which was already a clearly defined service that involved phones, not computers. As history has revealed, he was right. Whenever someone talks about VPNs today, they are talking about tunneled networks not a telecom service.

I also recall the ComNet 2000 trade show in Washington, D.C., not for the technology but for the blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow on a city unprepared to remove it. The federal government closed offices. About half the expected ComNet attendees failed to show up. Keynotes were cancelled. The contents of vendors booths never arrived, leaving company representatives to staff empty spaces where displays were supposed to be. Lucent Technologies managed to set up shop, though, and passed out one of the most sought-after freebies given out by any vendor – a fleece that many coveted to bundle up against the chilly weather outside.

Network World carried through with its party hosted at Union Station, which was surprisingly well attended as show-goers sought out a warm, friendly place with good food and drink to spend a few hours. An unexpected treat was the cab ride to the station, with drivers largely unexperienced in driving on largely unplowed streets. My driver on the way to the show was delighted. He was from Jamaica, he said, and had never driven on snow before, but found the experience exhilarating. I believed him, judging from the reckless abandon with which he slid around corners and through traffic circles.

More memorable, of course, was the 2001 Interop in Atlanta which opened up Sept. 11. The show floor was eerily quiet as attendees gathered around the large-screen TVs in some vendors’ booths to watch burning passenger jets sticking out of the World Trade Center, and later the buildings collapsing. The world had changed, and no one was conducting business. After the show was cancelled, Network World hired a bus that took many of our crew on a somber 20-hour ride back to our headquarters in Massachusetts, arriving early on the morning of Sept. 13. It had never been so good to be home.

Long ago in a far-away time….

By Michael Cooney

I was hired by Network World March 17, 1992. Seems like about 10 lifetimes ago now. I had been writing  for a newsletter called The Report on IBM, when  I was hired to be the Network World IBM reporter, focusing on Big Blue’s Systems Network Architecture and any other communications-related technology the company did at that time.

SNA was a complicated subject what with all the different PUs and LUs to know about, not to mention the families of IBM controllers and front end processors that you had to figure out. It wasn’t dull, at least from my perspective. There were also some very smart and colorful people in that particular realm too which made learning and writing about it easier.

What was weird for me was the day in 1999 when IBM sold what was left of its networking realm to Cisco. At the time I was no longer focused on IBM  but it was still very strange to hear that news. It certainly was the end of an era.

A new approach to encryption technology

Ellen Messmer

By Ellen Messmer

On April 16, 1993, President Bill Clinton announced the “Clipper Chip,” described as “a state-of-the-art microcircuit” developed by “government engineers” that was going to be a “new approach to encryption technology” that the government wanted industry to use in telephones, and later it turned out, also in all network equipment. The reason given was because “this technology preserves the ability of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to intercept lawfully the phone conversations of criminals.” A year later it became clear it was also going to cover all network communications.

It was an idea strongly backed by the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, increasingly concerned about how encryption was making it hard to monitor and intercept communications from terrorists and crooks. Vice President Al Gore, also a “Clipper Chip” backer, got what turned out to be the unhappy assignment of trying to convince a reluctant high-tech industry, outraged civil liberties groups and a startled public that a government-designed encryption backdoor should be in every network device for government eavesdropping purposes.

In the ensuing years, the White House and agencies that included the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), with help from Clipper Chip advocates such as respected security researcher Dorothy Denning, pushed hard on the carrot-and-stick approach to get the reluctant high-tech industry to adopt “Clipper Chip” and the “Skipjack algorithm” also unveiled as part of the government key-escrow system.

The carrot was the idea Clipper Chip products with strong encryption would get easy export abroad and the stick was the threat that products without it would eventually be outlawed or not bought by the government. But industry was not only going to have to figure out how to totally re-design its products with encryption to accommodate the Clipper Chip and Skipjack, but it was going to have to figure out who was going to buy them. It turned out large enterprises thought the whole thing was a bad security idea for many reasons, foreign buyers weren’t too thrilled, and technology experts, in particular Matt Blaze in his 1994 paper “Protocol Failure in the Escrowed Encryption Standard,” pounded on perceived vulnerabilities in the Clipper Chip key-escrow system.

The Clipper Chip effort by the White House had largely hit a dead end by 1996. But the traumatic effect it had on the U.S.-based network industry, which had seen the specter of government intervention into American business that might well have brought down its growth and creativity, was a shock long to fade and resonates still. 

Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, summed up the sentiments of many in 2002 when he brought up the Clipper Chip in his testimony before a Senate Science committee. “The Clipper Chip proposal was both controversial and technologically flawed,” he said. “Had it been implemented, the nation’s infrastructure would have been irreparably harmed, and our networks rendered highly vulnerable to attack.”   

Growing up at Network World

By Ann Bednarz

I’ve had my share of job titles, moves, and life changes during the 14 years I’ve been with Network World. I’ve worked as a temp in the marketing department, a reviews editor in the features department, a newsletter editor, a reporter, a news editor, and now, a features writer. I’ve moved from Massachusetts to Chicago, back to Massachusetts, and then to Minneapolis, where I live today. And I’ve gotten engaged, married and had three kids. The one constant has been Network World – except for six months in 1999 when I moved to Chicago and took a new job at a start-up magazine. It didn’t take long for me to miss Network World and join the ranks of IDG boomerang employees.

I’ve written or edited thousands of stories, and I’ve interviewed hundreds of smart people who were kind enough to share their knowledge. But my most treasured memories of Network World are the personal ones. Playing softball and celebrating the wins and losses at a local bar. Singing karaoke for the first and only time in my life at an editorial retreat. Getting together with good friends each time I visit the corporate offices. There’s a great crew at Network World, and I’m happy to be part of it.

Learn more about this topic

Network World’s 25th anniversary package

The networked world

25 ways IT will morph in the next 25 years