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Making the Right Connections (Part II): At the Heart of the Internet

by on February 14, 2012


“At the Heart of the Internet”

Our hiatus is over, and we cheerfully bring you the next installation of our Tech Tuesday blog post, “Making the Right Connections.”  At our last offering, we highlighted the contributions of Dr. George Strawn, former CIO for the National Science Foundation (NSF) – now on a special assignment as Director of the Executive Office of the President’s Networking and Information Technology Research & Development (NITRD) Program. In our follow up interview with Dr. Strawn in December, we focused on his main charge to lead a NITRD initiative to move government information into the clouds. And at a special event this Valentine’s week, we celebrate another anniversary that will include Dr. Strawn, so keep reading!

As you’ll recall from part one of our blog, Dr. Strawn described the use of computers during the 1980s as being “disjointed.”   The concept of an early internet during the end of the 1980s, was described by Stephen Grillo as “… a primitive, regional telecommunications network linking several national laboratories and supercomputing centers that could be accessed only by trained experts.  It was complicated, unfriendly, and slow. But it was an important first step to the worldwide establishment of the Internet.” [1]

It was through the innovative work between the NSF and IBM during this time – eventually dubbed the “NSFnet” – that Dr. Strawn became involved in what he described as the “slow gestation of the Internet.”

Internet Pioneers

One Internet pioneer who had been involved with computers since the 1970s was the former Congressman (and later Senator) Al Gore.  During the early 1990s, Gore promoted legislation of The High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, signed by President George H.W. Bush which funded an expansion of and greater public access to the Internet.  Two other pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn (who also happens to be a current member of NARA’s Advisory Committee on the Electronic Records Archives/ACERA) praised the work of Al Gore:

As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high-speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship [...] the Internet, as we know it today, was not deployed until 1993.

When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication. As an example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises…[2]

By the mid-late 1990s, the Internet took off exponentially, and became accepted by society.  Dr. Strawn recalled, “All of a sudden, applications changed a corner of the world – and people could now access information without having to depend upon the keeper of the keys! Networks provided a means to connect people without having to deal with the stuff under the covers.”

We asked Dr. Strawn to describe the early developments and use of the Internet, as well as the challenges and approaches for the use of cloud computing today.  He very simply explained that, “The Web was a 90s application of the Internet and the Cloud is 00s application of the same Internet. The so-called Web1.0 provides access to information over the Internet.  Web2.0 provides for a two-way flow of information – that is, web users can input information, as well as access information. Web3.0 is sometimes used as a synonym for the semantic web,” which will be discussed in a later post.

GoogleApps is a Cloud Service
Dr. Strawn used the term “Cloud1″ to represent software services provided to users that are stored on a remote server rather than on your PC, and accessible over the Internet.  If you are familiar with Cloud Computing services, this is known as “Software-as-a-Service” or in our wonderful world of acronyms, SaaS.

A good example of SaaS is GoogleApps which enables us to create documents through a (non-Microsoft) word processor, or to create spreadsheets and powerpoint-type presentations.  These services and created documents are stored on a remote server (i.e., the “cloud”), but you still have access to these documents anytime and anywhere, even if you are not at the same computer from where the documents were created.  So if you have a Google/Gmail account and are creating, reading, and storing documents using GoogleApps, then you are using cloud computing services!

Dr. Strawn described “Cloud2” and “Cloud3” as creation and delivery of SaaS applications that provide the direct storage of the user’s data sets.  These applications may involve information about the number and types of computers, and where they are located, as well as rental and operational costs – for example, how much computer power is needed or used – to process, store, and protect your data.

Use of the Web has been mostly a voluntary activity chosen by individual Internet users. Use of the cloud can be voluntary, as when individual users elect to use Google Apps instead of Microsoft Office. But it’s a much more complicated deal for a whole organization (such as NARA, or any other federal agency) to do the same thing and direct all its members to do it. And Dr. Strawn opined, “US government agencies in particular are not known for being early adopters of new IT services or products.”

Our next blog post will cover Web 3.0 – often called the semantic web, which is a way to design and structure web information that both humans and computers understand. But hold that thought.

Happy Anniversary NITRD!

We close this Valentine’s Day post on a heartfelt note acknowledging the work of the early NSF and Internet pioneers. Last year, Dr. Strawn observed fifty years of working with computers.  Tomorrow and Thursday, February 15-16 at the Newseum in Washington, DC, the NITRD Program will celebrate its 20th Anniversary at a Symposium and Reception, where Dr. Strawn will provide opening remarks, and former Vice President Al Gore will deliver the Luncheon keynote address.  In addition, our NARA NITRD Research Partner, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) will be featured during the Symposium. (More details about the Symposium can be found in this flyer.)  My Applied Research colleague Robert Chadduck – who chairs one of the NITRD SubCommittees – and I will attend the event, so stay tuned for our next post!

Additional information about the 20th Anniversary Symposium is at http://www.cra.org/ccc/nitrdsymposium_intro.php

Read this flyer to learn about the NARA’s participation on the NITRD Program – or visit the Applied Research website at http://www.archives.gov/applied-research/nitrd/index.html.

 


[1]  ”The Rise of the Internet,” by Stephen Grillo. IBM100: Icons of Progress, Retrieved Feb 8, 2012 http://www.ibm.com/ibm100/us/en/icons/internetrise/

[2]   Kahn, Bob; Cerf, Vint (2000-09-29). “Al Gore and the Internet” Retrieved Feb 9, 2012 http://amsterdam.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0009/msg00311.html


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