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6 Key Milestones in Computer Networking History

  • When it comes to amazing advancements in computer networking, there are literally dozens of technologies that paved the way and shaped the field as we know it. Looking way back, inventions that pioneered networking include the SAGE national air defense system and SABRE, the first online reservation system, both built by IBM.

    In this slideshow, we focus on a few key revolutionary developments are core to the enterprise network IT pros work on today. These milestones each have their own unique story and often contain bits of history that are fascinating and sometimes humorous.

    You will notice that this list doesn't include more recent technologies such as network functions virtualization (NFV) or SD-WAN. These technologies may eventually prove to be historically significant, but it's far too early to tell. We can only speculate on what technologies have the potential to impact us in the future.

    So please join us for a trip down memory lane to recognize six great milestones in computer networking history.

  • The internet

    When discussing the origins of the internet, it's almost guaranteed you'll hear the obligatory Al Gore joke. But we're better than that. The origin of the internet can be traced back to the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, which later became DARPA,) In the late 1960's, ARPA developed an early packet-switching technology, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which ultimately led to the invention of the Internet protocol (IP) suite. Typically referred to as TCP/IP, the protocol is the foundation of today's internet.

    (Image source: The Computer History Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

  • Ethernet

    Xerox is the company that can lay claim to the invention of Ethernet. In 1973, at a Xerox research facility in Palo Alto, Calif., Robert Metcalfe and David Boggs built the first Ethernet prototype that operated at 2.94 Mbps. After performing further testing, Xerox eventually patented Ethernet in 1975. In 1979, the IEEE came into the picture when it formed a standards committee around Ethernet with the purpose of promoting the technology for mass consumption.

    (Image: asharkyu/Shutterstock)

  • The router

    Contrary to popular belief,  the invention of the router predates Cisco Systems. The networking breakthrough originated with the Interface Message Processor, gateway devices used in ARPANET. The multiprotocol router was developed in the '80s by Bill Yeager, a researcher at Stanford University. Stanford IT staff Leonard Bosack and Sandy Lerner realized the commercial implications of the router technology, developed a revised version of Yeager's router, and went on to form Cisco Systems in 1984.

    (Image: ARPANET IPM by Steve Jurnetson via Wikimedia Commons)

  • VLAN

    Because Ethernet technologies operated using CSMA/CD media access control, it limited the number of devices that could attach to a LAN and remain functional. To combat the increase of broadcast traffic on LANs with a large number of connected devices, the concept of a virtual LAN (VLAN) was developed in the late 1980's and early 1990's. This technology logically segments a single LAN with a single broadcast domain into two or more logical LANs each with their own broadcast domain. Later, the IEEE 802.1Q standard was developed to standardize VLANs and the trunking of multiple VLANs across network uplinks.

    (Image: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

  • The firewall

    Who invented the firewall? That seems to be a question we may never truly be able to answer. What we do know is that the firewall has been the first line of defense in enterprise networks for the better part of three decades. Original firewalls were stateless in nature, which meant that access control rules had to be created in both directions. Check Point Software Technologies, founded in 1993, is said to be the inventor of the modern stateful firewall that still used today. Check Point's network firewall ushered in an entire market of networking tools and appliances that focus solely on the protection and integrity of data as it flows across trusted and untrusted networks.

    (Image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay)

  • WiFi

    802.11 technology, more commonly referred to as WiFi, was almost certainly to be an enormous success no matter what. However, it was Apple’s Steve Jobs that played a pivotal role in making wireless technology so popular, so quickly. At the Macworld ’99 conference, Steve introduced the original iBook and AirPort wireless technologies. While the iBook had a whole host of computing innovations, the one that stole the show was how it could be networked effortlessly using WiFi. And just how did Mr. Jobs choose to show off the innovative new technology? With a hula hoop, of course.

    (Image: Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock)