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1. Interconnection
Episode 124th February 2022 • Traceroute • Equinix
00:00:00 00:37:03

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Inventing the internet can be traced from its formation for military and academic use. Since then, we've made huge leaps in terms of communication and interconnectivity. Greater interconnectivity has changed the game for building networks between people. The projects that began in 1966 have fundamentally altered communication practices all over the world.

In the first episode of Traceroute, we go back to the start of the Cold War. What was the initial purpose of computer networking? How has it changed over time? We'll answer these questions with insights from Jay Adelson, Sarah Weinberger, John Morris, and Peter Van Camp. In this episode, we'll discover how the very nature of digital communication evolved and continues to evolve today. One major contribution to the interconnectivity we enjoy today is the neutral exchange framework spearheaded by Equinix.

Episode Highlights 

[02:46] DARPA and Improving Interconnectivity

  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was created in response to the panic caused by the Soviet Union’s Sputnik, the first artificial satellite in the world.
  • DARPA had a broad mandate to take on research projects as directed by the Secretary of Defense. 
  • It tried to create new technologies to keep the Pentagon and the military ahead of the Soviets. 
  • DARPA's priorities were space and defense research. However, it also had to consider effective communication and improving interconnectivity.

[04:24] The Birth of ARPANET

  • One of the research projects funded by DARPA was ARPANET. The concept of computer networks were new, but improved interconnectivity within the organization.
  • In the early days of computers, DARPA hired J.C.R. Licklider. He became fundamental to inventing the internet.

Sharon Weinberger: “He sort of looked ahead and said, the way that we work with computers is going to fundamentally change our society.”

  • Their proposal became a prototype. 1969 was the first instance of two computers being connected, and the first message delivered over ARPANET was sent. 
  • It was a struggle to convince people of the benefits of greater interconnectivity. The project's funding was almost cut due to lack of support.

[07:41] Interconnecting People

  • More people realized that having interconnected systems had applications outside military use.
  • The internet left DARPA's hands in the 90s, becoming commercially viable and consumer-friendly. But we can't overlook its military legacy.
  • J.C.R Licklider’s hand in inventing the internet also cannot be understated.
  • ARPANET is an example of a successful collaboration between the government and private sector.

[09:36] Traffic in the Open Web

John Morris: “Back in the '80s, commercial communications were prohibited on the internet. The internet was only for government and academic communication.”

  • The internet’s evolution to how we know it today started when it was decentralized from government control.
  • Connection points soon became congested and created traffic in physical telecommunication networks.
  • More importantly, opportunities online led to commercial growth and the need for regulation.

[13:07] The Telecommunications Act of 1996

  • The main focus of the legislation was to generate competition among phone companies.
  • It also created an opportunity for CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers). They could deliver better connectivity and services to a user through higher-speed internet. 
  • This development led to the birth of broadband internet. It also increased the need for physical connection points to maintain efficient interconnectivity between devices.
  • The '96 Telecommunications Act enabled private organizations separate from phone companies to run exchange points.
  • Competition between phone companies made neutral exchange points that laid the groundwork for the internet today.

[16:06] A Faster, Decentralized Internet 

  • Cable companies entering the competition for providing internet access opened the debate for open access neutrality. 
  • Thankfully, we have a reasonably open network today. A user can access almost anything online without limitation.
  • We still benefit from the Telecommunications Act today. It mandates that the internet remains decentralized, and the competition pushes companies to improve their services.

John Morris: “It was critically important that we enabled very broad, ubiquitous connections to allow large and small speakers to be able to reach their audience quickly and reliably and without necessarily being throttled or regulated by an individual network provider.”

[21:05] Network Access Points

  • During the early days of the internet, phone companies charged for connectivity to their competitors.
  • Railways became instrumental to providing internet connections over long distances. 
  • However, expanding the connecting backbone of these connections became expensive. Thus, a single network was not economically viable.
  • This dilemma brings us to another question: how do we prioritize traffic across this network? 

[25:33] Neutral Connection Points Brought by Equinix 

  • In 1997, network access points became congested and overpriced, affecting the speed, performance, and connectivity. Thankfully, Jay Adelson had an idea.

Jay Adelson: The truth is, sometimes, the simple solution is sometimes the best. And much like telephone operators plugging cables into different patch panels, we were doing that in a data center.

  • Backed by investments from the .com bubble, Equinix planned to build an ecosystem from six neutral connection points in the United States. 
  • Having a neutral exchange model helped support the growth of the internet we know today. In the past, telecom organizations did not trust each other’s data centers.
  • Thus, Equinix was also invaluable in inventing the internet as we know it today.

[29:20] Changes in the Internet’s Infrastructure

  • When the bubble popped, Equinix lost many customers. However, the internet slowly recovered, and in the process, changed. These shifts required new infrastructure.
  • In part due to the neutral exchanges, the cost of traffic dropped precipitously. So, it made more financial sense for a business to outsource storage as a service. 
  • This shift meant that Equinix had to build larger data centers to handle thousands of customers. A content provider business would need to start building their own servers.
  • Neutral exchange points, the place where interconnection happens, are still important today.
  • Thankfully, everyone is still committed to an open framework. Today, we are all interconnected through our devices.

Jay Adelson: “I think everybody's still very committed to an open framework by which they can interconnect with each other and do what they need to do within their sort of their various camps. I don't see a technology breaking point, coming anytime soon.”

[33:50] Threats to the Internet’s Growth

  • The freedom and interconnectivity users have online can be destructive. It could even cause the demise of the internet as we know it.
  • The threats we’re facing at the moment are the abuse of people's data, the political climate, misinformation, and the culture we built around great interconnectivity through digital communication. 
  • Jay Adelson points to the importance of information sensitivity. Consumers and corporations both have responsibilities while online.

Three reasons why you should listen to this episode of the Traceroute podcast:

  1. Discover how military and academic concepts gave birth to computer networking.
  2. Learn the importance of the neutral exchange model to internet speed and widespread availability.
  3. Learn what physical infrastructure interacts with software to give us the interconnectivity we have today.

About Our Guests

Jay Adelson is a serial entrepreneur. He's also the co-founder of Equinix, Digg, Revision3, SimpleGeo, Opsmatic, and Scorbit. Currently focused on his gaming company, he is serving as the chairman and co-founder of Scorbit. His sustaining business model has helped Equinix achieve its global success. Time Magazine selected him for their Top 100 Influential People in 2008. 

To see more of Jay Adelson’s work, contact him through LinkedIn or Twitter.

Sharon Weinberger is a national security reporter and editor. Her 20 years of work focuses on the intersection of national security, technology, and science. She currently is working as Yahoo!’s Bureau Chief in Washington, D.C. Her book, The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World, is about the military beginnings of computer networking and the internet.

Interested in more information about Sharon Weinberger? Check out her LinkedIn, and reach her through Twitter.

John B. Morris, Jr. is a nonresident fellow for Governance Studies at the Center for Technology Innovation. He served at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration as Head of the Office of Policy and Analysis Development. His work is centered on free expression, data governance, government surveillance, internet standards, competition, open internet policy, and integrity and security issues. 

You can reach John through LinkedIn.

Peter Van Camp is the executive chairman at Equinix, the world’s digital infrastructure company. Together with Jay Adelson and Andy Smith, they built Equinix from the ground up and are responsible for its continued success. 

To get more information about Equinix and the work they do, go to their website here. Connect with Peter Van Camp through  LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Additional Resources

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