Patrice Riemens on Mon, 18 Aug 2008 14:41:15 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Vinton Cerf: A Decade of Internet Evolution

>From the Internet Protocol Journal, vol 11, numberr 2, June 2008
(original at:

A Decade of Internet Evolution
by Vinton G. Cerf, Google

In 1998 the Internet had about 50 million users, supported by 
approximately 25 million servers (Web and e-mail hosting sites, for 
example, but not desktops or laptops). In that same year, the Internet 
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) [1] was created. 
Internet companies such as Netscape Communications, Yahoo!, eBay, and 
Amazon were already 3 to 4 years old and the Internet was in the middle of 
its so-called "dot-boom" period. Google emerged that year as a highly 
speculative effort to "organize the world's information and make it 
accessible and useful." Investment in anything related to the Internet was 
called "irrational exuberance" by the then head of the U.S. Federal 
Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan.

By April 2000, the Internet boom ended—at least in the United 
States—and a notable decline in investment in Internet application 
providers and infrastructure ensued. Domino effects resulted for router 
vendors, Internet service providers, and application providers. An 
underlying demand for Internet services remained, however, and it 
continued to grow, in part because of the growth in the number of Internet 
users worldwide.

During this same period, access to the Internet began to shift from 
dial-up speeds (on the order of kilobits to tens of kilobits per second) 
to broadband speeds (often measured in megabits per second). New access 
technologies such as digital subscriber loops and dedicated fiber raised 
consumer expectations of Internet capacity, in turn triggering much 
interest in streaming applications such as voice and video. In some 
locales, consumers could obtain gigabit access to the Internet (for 
example, in Japan and Stockholm). In addition, mobile access increased 
rapidly as mobile technology spread throughout the world, especially in 
regions where wireline telephony had been slow to develop.

Today the Internet has an estimated 542 million servers and about 1.3 
billion users. Of the estimated 3 billion mobile phones in use, about 15 
percent are Internet-enabled, adding 450 million devices to the Internet. 
In addition, at least 1 billion personal computers are in use, a 
significant fraction of which also have access to the Internet. The 
diversity of devices and access speeds on the Internet combine to produce 
challenges and opportunities for Internet application providers around the 
world. Highly variable speeds, display areas, and physical modes of 
interaction create a rich but complex canvas on which to develop new 
Internet applications and adapt older ones.

Another well-documented but unexpected development during this same decade 
is the dramatic increase in user-produced content on the Internet. There 
is no question that users contributed strongly to the utility of the 
Internet as the World Wide Web made its debut in the early 1990s with a 
rapidly growing menu of Web pages.

But higher speeds have encouraged user-produced audio and video archives 
(Napster and YouTube), as well as sharing of all forms of digital content 
through peer-to-peer protocols. Voice over IP, once a novelty, is very 
common, together with video conferencing (iChat from Apple, for example).

Geographically indexed information has also emerged as a major resource 
for Internet users. In the scientific realm, Google Earth and Google Maps 
are frequently used to display scientific data, sensor measurements, and 
so on. Local consumer information is another common theme. When I found 
myself in the small town of Page, Arizona, looking for saffron to make 
paella while in a houseboat on Lake Powell, a Google search on my 
Blackberry quickly identified markets in the area. I called one of them 
and verified that it had saffron in stock. I followed the map on the 
Website and bought 0.06 ounces of Spanish saffron for about $12.99. This 
experience reinforced my belief that having locally useful information at 
your fingertips no matter where you are is a powerful ally in daily 

New business models based on the economics of digital information are also 
emerging. I can recall spending $1,000 for about 10 MB of disk storage in 
1979. Recently I purchased 2 TB of disk storage for about $600. If I had 
tried to buy 2 TB of disk storage in 1979, it would have cost $200 
million, and probably would have outstripped the production capacity of 
the supplier. The cost of processing, storing, and transporting digital 
information has changed the cost basis for businesses that once required 
the physical delivery of objects containing information (books, 
newspapers, magazines, CDs, and DVDs). The Internet can deliver this kind 
of information in digital form economically—and often more quickly than 
physical delivery. Older businesses whose business models are based on the 
costs of physical delivery of information must adapt to these new 
economics or they may find themselves losing business to online 
competitors. (It is interesting to note, however, that the Netflix 
business, which delivers DVDs by postal mail, has a respectable data rate 
of about 145 kbps per DVD, assuming a 3-day delivery time and about 4.7 GB 
per DVD. The CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, told me nearly 2 years ago 
that he was then shipping about 1.9 million DVDs per day, for an aggregate 
data rate of about 275 Gbps!)

Even the media that have traditionally been delivered electronically such 
as telephony, television, and radio are being changed by digital 
technology and the Internet. These media can now be delivered from 
countless sources to equally countless destinations over the Internet. It 
is common to think of these media as being delivered in streaming modes 
(that is, packets delivered in real time), but this need not be the case 
for material that has been prerecorded. Users of iPods have already 
discovered that they can download music faster than they can listen to it.

With gigabit access to the Internet, one could download an hour's worth of 
conventional video in about 16 seconds. This fact certainly changes my 
understanding of "video on demand" from a streaming delivery to a file 
transfer. The latter is much easier on the Internet because one is not 
concerned about packet inter-arrival times (jitter), loss, or even orderly 
delivery because the packets can be reordered and retransmitted during the 
file transfer. I am told that about 10 hours of video are being uploaded 
to YouTube per second.

The battles over Quality of Service (QoS) are probably not over yet 
either. Services such as Skype and applications such as iChat from Apple 
demonstrate the feasibility of credible, real-time audio and video 
conferencing on the "best-efforts" public Internet. I have been surprised 
by the quality that is possible when both parties have reasonably 
high-capacity access to the Internet.

Technorati is said to be tracking on the order of 112 million blogs, and 
the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) estimates 72 million 
Chinese blogs that are probably in addition to those tracked by 
Technorati. Adding to these are billions of Web pages and, perhaps even 
more significant, an unknown amount of information online in the form of 
large databases. The latter are not indexed in the same way that Web pages 
can be, but probably contain more information. Think about high-energy 
physics information, images from the Hubble and other telescopes, radio 
telescope data including the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence 
(SETI) [2], and you quickly conclude that our modern society is awash in 
digital information.

It seems fair to ask how long accessibility of this information is likely 
to continue. By this question I do not mean that it may be lost from the 
Internet but, rather, that we may lose the ability to interpret it. I have 
already encountered such problems with image files whose formats are old 
and whose interpretation by newer software may not be possible. Similarly, 
I have ASCII text files from more than 20 years ago that I can still read, 
but I no longer have operating software that can interpret the formatting 
instructions to produce a nicely formatted page. I sometimes think of this 
problem as the "year 3000" problem: It is the year 3000 and I have just 
finished a Google search and found a PowerPoint 1997 file. Assuming I am 
running Windows 3000, it is a fair question whether the format of this 
file will still be interpretable. This problem would arise even if I were 
using open-source software. It seems unlikely that application software 
will last 1000 years in the normal course of events unless we deliberately 
take steps to preserve our ability to interpret digital content. Absent 
such actions, we will find ourselves awash in a sea of rotting bits whose 
meaning has long since been lost.

This problem is not trivial because questions will arise about 
intellectual property protection of the application, and even the 
operating system software involved. If a company goes out of business or 
asserts that it will no longer support a particular version of an 
application or operating system, do we need new regulations that require 
this software to be available on the public Internet in some way?

Even if we have skirted this problem in the past by rendering information 
into printed form, or microfilm, the complexity of digital objects is 
increasing. Consider spreadsheets or other complex objects that really 
cannot be fully "rendered" without the assistance of application software. 
So it will not be adequate simply to print or render information in other 
long-lived media formats. We really will need to preserve our ability to 
read and interpret bits.

The year 2008 also marks the tenth anniversary of a project that started 
at the U.S. Jet Propulsion Laboratory: The Interplanetary Internet. This 
effort began as a protocol design exercise to see what would have to 
change to make Internet-like capability available to manned and robotic 
spacecraft. The idea was to develop networking technology that would 
provide to the space exploration field the kind of rich and interoperable 
networking between spacecraft of any (Earth) origin that we enjoy between 
devices on the Internet.

The design team quickly recognized that the standard TCP/IP protocols 
would not overcome some of the long delays and disruptions to be expected 
in deep space communication. A new set of protocols evolved that could 
operate above the conventional Internet or on underlying transport 
protocols more suited to long delays and disruption. Called "delay and 
disruption tolerant networking" [3, 4] or DTN, this suite of protocols is 
layered in the same abstract way as the Internet. The Interplanetary 
system could be thought of as a network of Internets, although it is not 
constrained to use conventional Internet protocols. The analog of IP is 
called the Bundle Protocol [5], and this protocol can run above TCP or the 
User Datagram Protocol (UDP) or the new Licklider Transport Protocol (for 
deep space application). Ironically, the DTN protocol suite has also 
proven to be useful for terrestrial applications in which delay and 
disruption are common: tactical military communication and civilian mobile 

After 10 years of work, the DTN system will be tested onboard the Deep 
Impact mission platform late in 2008 as part of a program to qualify the 
new technology for use in future space missions. It is hoped that this 
protocol suite can be standardized for use by any of the world's space 
agencies so that spacecraft from any country will be interoperable with 
spacecraft of other countries and available to support new missions if 
they are still operational and have completed their primary missions. Such 
a situation already exists on Mars, where the Rovers are using previously 
launched orbital satellites to relay information to Earth's Deep Space 
Network using store-and-forward techniques like those common to the 

The Internet has gone from dial-up to deep space in just the past 10 
years. One can only begin to speculate about its application and condition 
10 years hence. We will all have to keep our subscriptions to The Internet 
Protocol Journal to find out!

[1] Cerf, V., "Looking Toward the Future," The Internet Protocol Journal, 
Volume 10, No. 4, December 2007.



[4]	V. Cerf, S. Burleigh, A. Hooke, L. Torgerson, R. Durst, K. Scott, 
K. Fall, and H. Weiss, "Delay-Tolerant Networking Architecture," RFC 4838, 
April 2007.

[5]	Scott, K., and S. Burleigh, “Bundle Protocol 
Specification,” RFC 5050, November 2007.

VINTON G. CERF is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. 
Cerf served as a senior vice president of MCI from 1994 through 2005. 
Widely known as one of the "Fathers of the Internet," Cerf is the 
co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. 
He received the U.S. National Medal of Technology in 1997 and the 2004 ACM 
Alan M. Turing award. In November 2005, he was awarded the Presidential 
Medal of Freedom. Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet 
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from 2000 through 2007 
and was founding president of the Internet Society. He is a Fellow of the 
IEEE, ACM, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Engineering 
Consortium, the Computer History Museum, and the National Academy of 
Engineering. He is an honorary Freeman of the City of London. Cerf holds a 
Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Stanford University and 
Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UCLA. 

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