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The early days of DNS and NDS

Jul 08, 20033 mins
DNSEnterprise Applications

* Twenty years of the domain name system

It was just 20 years ago last month that a group of computer scientists at the University of Southern California automated the domain name system, a key innovation essential to making the modern Internet work, and created what we now call DNS. That same year, 1983, Ray Noorda became CEO of Novell Data Systems and started the LAN revolution.

In mid 1981, two years before Noorda took over the running of NDSI, NDSI President Jack Davis recruited four student programmers from Brigham Young University (BYU), just down the road in Orem. Davis wanted them to create a word processing program which NDSI could sell along with the terminals (business computing was still firmly entrenched on mainframes) and printers that were the company’s main business. The four young contractors (they were not employees) – Drew Major, Dale Neibauer, Kyle Powell and Mark Hurst – later joined together under the name Superset.

While setting up their offices, though, the Superset guys put in some of the brand new IBM personal computers and spent a few weeks networking them together so that they could easily share programming code and do real “collaboration.” The word processor never did get written.

The work at Novell and USC began to coalesce some 10 years later with the release of NetWare 4 and its implementation of the NetWare Directory Service (NDS – now called eDirectory). DNS was a way to facilitate computer-to-computer communication while NDS was user based, facilitating user-to-user and user-to-machine interactions.

While DNS was firmly entrenched in IP, NDS relied on Novell’s own IPX/SPX protocols for inter-machine communication. Five years later, the two similarly named technologies converged with the release of NetWare 5 which could run over “real IP” and came with its own DNS server built in.

Twenty years is not that long a time. It was twice that long ago that the Beatles burst on the scene and JFK left it. For those of us who remember those days, it seems a very short time ago. Yet, contrarily, it sometimes seems as if DNS, NetWare and even NDS have been with us forever.

Sadly, one of the inventors of DNS, Jon Postel, is no longer with us having passed on in 1998 but his “co-conspirator,” Paul Mockapetris, is still going strong (I’ll be seeing him this week at the Burton Group’s Catalyst conference). All the other people involved with the launch of NetWare are still around.

If you ever get the chance to meet, or simply listen to, any of the people I’ve mentioned here – take it. These are the movers, shakers and history makers and we should thank them at every opportunity for what they’ve done.

You can read more about the history of DNS at

There’s an account of the fascinating early days of Novell as told by former employee, Roger White. His manuscript, “Surfing a High Tech Wave,” can be found at