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Tech U: Tomorrow's IT Challenges Today

When Network Computing's editors first discussed doing a cover story on networking in universities, there were a few skeptics. Although we've done articles profiling specific businesses and their technology applications, we'd never focused on one vertical market segment. Why start now?

The short answer is that universities are unique when it comes to technology. As developers of network protocols and standards, as incubators for many of the leading companies in our industry, and perhaps most important, as sites for large-scale deployments of new technologies, universities play a key role. That's worth exploring.


Over the years, we've seen network technologies commoditize and converge, and we've followed the challenges up the stack and then back down again. Universities were among the first to anoint Ethernet king, and despite ill-fated dalliances with ATM on a few campuses, that decision and others have held up in the broader market. Universities also were among the first to replace mainframes with client-server systems and to capitalize on the Web's potential. Today, universities are blazing trails in many areas.

My views on this issue are somewhat biased, having gained my earliest professional IT experience at a university, where I was involved in road-testing a range of emerging network technologies. I remember installing my first "Internet" connection, a 9,600-bps (yes, that's bits per second) IP-over-DECNet link to ARPANet. To connect our Unix and VAX/VMS servers and first-generation PCs, we installed those nasty runs of IEEE 10Base-5, aka thin yellow garden hose, to connect the $895 3Com network cards installed in our IBM XTs with lightning-fast 4.77-MHz CPUs.

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