Network World reporters reflect on their favorite moment

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I recall one Friday afternoon in 1996 about 4:30 p.m. Eastern when a Microsoft representative called me up to tell me that Microsoft was going to support virtual private networks. To that point, VPN was a telecom term used to describe a service that connected any group of telephones into what behaved as a private phone network but that was set up and maintained within the carrier's network. What Microsoft described was completely different.

Its VPN – using point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) – established secure connections across the Internet so it could be used as an alternative to dialup for remote access. Users would dial a local number to an ISP, which would authenticate the user and establish a PPTP tunnel to the user's corporate remote access server. The remote computer would send traffic to the ISP via point-to-point protocol, which the ISP would convert to PPTP.

The upside for businesses was that they'd no longer have to make toll calls for remote access, just local calls to an ISP that supported PPTP.

That first introduction to a technology that would become a mainstay of both remote access and WAN connectivity didn't go as smoothly as it might have. I spent a good deal of time telling the Microsoft representative that what they were describing was not a VPN, which was already a clearly defined service that involved phones, not computers. As history has revealed, he was right. Whenever someone talks about VPNs today, they are talking about tunneled networks not a telecom service.

I also recall the ComNet 2000 trade show in Washington, D.C., not for the technology but for the blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow on a city unprepared to remove it. The federal government closed offices. About half the expected ComNet attendees failed to show up. Keynotes were cancelled. The contents of vendors booths never arrived, leaving company representatives to staff empty spaces where displays were supposed to be. Lucent Technologies managed to set up shop, though, and passed out one of the most sought-after freebies given out by any vendor – a fleece that many coveted to bundle up against the chilly weather outside.

Network World carried through with its party hosted at Union Station, which was surprisingly well attended as show-goers sought out a warm, friendly place with good food and drink to spend a few hours. An unexpected treat was the cab ride to the station, with drivers largely unexperienced in driving on largely unplowed streets. My driver on the way to the show was delighted. He was from Jamaica, he said, and had never driven on snow before, but found the experience exhilarating. I believed him, judging from the reckless abandon with which he slid around corners and through traffic circles.

More memorable, of course, was the 2001 Interop in Atlanta which opened up Sept. 11. The show floor was eerily quiet as attendees gathered around the large-screen TVs in some vendors' booths to watch burning passenger jets sticking out of the World Trade Center, and later the buildings collapsing. The world had changed, and no one was conducting business. After the show was cancelled, Network World hired a bus that took many of our crew on a somber 20-hour ride back to our headquarters in Massachusetts, arriving early on the morning of Sept. 13. It had never been so good to be home.

Long ago in a far-away time….

By Michael Cooney

I was hired by Network World March 17, 1992. Seems like about 10 lifetimes ago now. I had been writing  for a newsletter called The Report on IBM, when  I was hired to be the Network World IBM reporter, focusing on Big Blue's Systems Network Architecture and any other communications-related technology the company did at that time.

SNA was a complicated subject what with all the different PUs and LUs to know about, not to mention the families of IBM controllers and front end processors that you had to figure out. It wasn't dull, at least from my perspective. There were also some very smart and colorful people in that particular realm too which made learning and writing about it easier.

What was weird for me was the day in 1999 when IBM sold what was left of its networking realm to Cisco. At the time I was no longer focused on IBM  but it was still very strange to hear that news. It certainly was the end of an era.~~

A new approach to encryption technology

By Ellen Messmer

On April 16, 1993, President Bill Clinton announced the "Clipper Chip," described as "a state-of-the-art microcircuit" developed by "government engineers" that was going to be a "new approach to encryption technology" that the government wanted industry to use in telephones, and later it turned out, also in all network equipment. The reason given was because "this technology preserves the ability of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to intercept lawfully the phone conversations of criminals." A year later it became clear it was also going to cover all network communications.

It was an idea strongly backed by the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, increasingly concerned about how encryption was making it hard to monitor and intercept communications from terrorists and crooks. Vice President Al Gore, also a "Clipper Chip" backer, got what turned out to be the unhappy assignment of trying to convince a reluctant high-tech industry, outraged civil liberties groups and a startled public that a government-designed encryption backdoor should be in every network device for government eavesdropping purposes.

In the ensuing years, the White House and agencies that included the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), with help from Clipper Chip advocates such as respected security researcher Dorothy Denning, pushed hard on the carrot-and-stick approach to get the reluctant high-tech industry to adopt "Clipper Chip" and the "Skipjack algorithm" also unveiled as part of the government key-escrow system.

The carrot was the idea Clipper Chip products with strong encryption would get easy export abroad and the stick was the threat that products without it would eventually be outlawed or not bought by the government. But industry was not only going to have to figure out how to totally re-design its products with encryption to accommodate the Clipper Chip and Skipjack, but it was going to have to figure out who was going to buy them. It turned out large enterprises thought the whole thing was a bad security idea for many reasons, foreign buyers weren't too thrilled, and technology experts, in particular Matt Blaze in his 1994 paper "Protocol Failure in the Escrowed Encryption Standard," pounded on perceived vulnerabilities in the Clipper Chip key-escrow system.

The Clipper Chip effort by the White House had largely hit a dead end by 1996. But the traumatic effect it had on the U.S.-based network industry, which had seen the specter of government intervention into American business that might well have brought down its growth and creativity, was a shock long to fade and resonates still. 

Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, summed up the sentiments of many in 2002 when he brought up the Clipper Chip in his testimony before a Senate Science committee. "The Clipper Chip proposal was both controversial and technologically flawed," he said. "Had it been implemented, the nation's infrastructure would have been irreparably harmed, and our networks rendered highly vulnerable to attack."   

Growing up at Network World

By Ann Bednarz

I’ve had my share of job titles, moves, and life changes during the 14 years I’ve been with Network World. I've worked as a temp in the marketing department, a reviews editor in the features department, a newsletter editor, a reporter, a news editor, and now, a features writer. I've moved from Massachusetts to Chicago, back to Massachusetts, and then to Minneapolis, where I live today. And I've gotten engaged, married and had three kids. The one constant has been Network World – except for six months in 1999 when I moved to Chicago and took a new job at a start-up magazine. It didn't take long for me to miss Network World and join the ranks of IDG boomerang employees.

I've written or edited thousands of stories, and I've interviewed hundreds of smart people who were kind enough to share their knowledge. But my most treasured memories of Network World are the personal ones. Playing softball and celebrating the wins and losses at a local bar. Singing karaoke for the first and only time in my life at an editorial retreat. Getting together with good friends each time I visit the corporate offices. There's a great crew at Network World, and I'm happy to be part of it.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "Network World reporters reflect on their favorite moment" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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