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Networking IT Technology

Ethernet Turns 40 159

Posted by timothy
from the it's-thinking-about-that-optical-sportscar dept.
alancronin writes "Four decades ago the Ethernet protocol made its debut as a way to connect machines in close proximity, today it is the networking layer two protocol of choice for local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs) and everything in between. For many people Ethernet is merely the RJ45 jack on the back of a laptop, but its relative ubiquity and simplicity belie what Ethernet has done for the networking industry and in turn for consumers and enterprises. Ethernet has in the space of 40 years gone from a technology that many in the industry viewed as something not fit for high bandwidth, dependable communications to the default data link protocol."
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Ethernet Turns 40

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  • by optikos (1187213) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:16PM (#43805419)
    ... turns over in its grave.
  • LANPARTY! (Score:4, Funny)

    by WillgasM (1646719) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:22PM (#43805497) Homepage
    Break out the BNCs and coax.
    • Re:LANPARTY! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by OhSoLaMeow (2536022) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:46PM (#43805743)

      Break out the BNCs and coax.

      BNC? Break out the AUIs! [wikipedia.org]
      10base5 was quite a bit more challenging to install, given that each cable tap had to be at a precise location and required special tools to drill the cable.
      Now get off of my LAN!

      • ahh, thanks for the return of the nightmares! My hands still show the scars.

      • by WillgasM (1646719)
        I've done vampire taps, but I'm really not sure why. They were well before my time. I guess our teacher was just bored in lab that day.
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        Yup, when I was doing IT type stuff, it was all vampire taps on expensive and heavy teflon cables. It also felt like a real ethernet in that it was CSMA/CD with one single cable supplying several users. Today most of the ethernet I see are point-to-point cables using full duplex to a distant switch, one cable per computer, thus you've got something like a star network.

      • by Shimbo (100005)

        10base5 was quite a bit more challenging to install, given that each cable tap had to be at a precise location

        Well, sort of. There were markers on the cable, so you didn't install taps too close together and screw the transmission line characteristics. There weren't dead spots between them though.

      • I actually still have an Ethernet to Appletalk bridge that supports 10BT and 10B2 and it still works... well my local switch will show a link active, and dump packets onto it.

    • by guttentag (313541)
      LAN parties never made much sense to me.

      Were you that overly-excited guy going from door to door in the dorms, announcing, "We're having a LAN party! Unplug your computer and bring it down to the 4th floor lounge!" To which I replied, "why don't I just stay here... I'm already connected."

      I always felt like the point of having a LAN was so you could be far enough away that I couldn't hear you shrilly giggling about the ginormous zerg rush you were preparing to unleash upon me.
      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        With a multiplayer FPS, large parties with CTF or similar team settings were always a blast, esp with the smack talk going on.

        We have 2 labs here at work, separated by a sliding glass door. One team on each side, door open enough to hear the smack talk, but not necessarily the instructors from a team or squad type leader.

        • by Andy Dodd (701)

          Yeah. Mumble, TeamSpeak, Ventrilo - none are a good replacement for just shouting out loud.

          Some of the most fun I've ever had gaming was a DAoC LAN party many years ago - I drove down to visit one of my guildies, and his GF (now wife), some friends, and their GFs (also guildies) were all there. We broke out the beer and the switches and went RvRing the whole weekend. "HIBS INC NW!" sounds so different when shouted in a friends' apartment. :)

      • Re:LANPARTY! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @03:03PM (#43805917)

        Many people who went to LAN parties were also not college students and not living in dorms an. Before high speed internet was a "thing" you had to be on the LAN to get optimal multiplayer. Personally for my LAN culture died off when pings fell below 100ms over the internet instead of the 500-1000ms over 56K

        • by Ghostgate (800445)

          Before high speed internet was a "thing" you had to be on the LAN to get optimal multiplayer. Personally for my LAN culture died off when pings fell below 100ms over the internet instead of the 500-1000ms over 56K

          You are seriously exaggerating ping times on old dialup connections. I played a lot of Quake in the late 90s and even on my 28.8 modem I could get 200-350ms pings to most servers and 300-500ms to distant servers. I never had 56k because although my ISP offered it, my phone lines then couldn't sup

        • by antdude (79039)

          LAN parties are rare, but still exist. It's fun to hang out with people in person beside being online.

      • Re:LANPARTY! (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @03:07PM (#43805963)

        LAN parties never made much sense to me.

        Were you that overly-excited guy going from door to door in the dorms, announcing, "We're having a LAN party! Unplug your computer and bring it down to the 4th floor lounge!" To which I replied, "why don't I just stay here... I'm already connected."

        Some of us figured out how to LAN before they taught us how in college... And even before building-wide Ethernet was the norm for homes, offices, dorms, etc, and LONG before internet access with sub-250ms latency was available to anyone outside of a university or major corporation. So yes, there were motivations to LAN before you got to college and decided the best way to spend your time was alone in your dorm room. Bro.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I'm still jealous as I never got invited to cool parties like that.

        • by styrotech (136124)

          I'm still jealous as I never got invited to cool parties like that.

          You really missed out! Sometimes all the molecules in the hostess's undergarments would simultaneously leap one foot to the left!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        LAN parties never made much sense to me.

        Were you that overly-excited guy going from door to door in the dorms, announcing, "We're having a LAN party! Unplug your computer and bring it down to the 4th floor lounge!" To which I replied, "why don't I just stay here... I'm already connected."

        When I was in college dorms, we had no network connections in dorm rooms. All we had was RJ11 phone service, so the highest speed network connection was a dialup ISP. LAN interfaces weren't even standard equipment on every personal computer yet. If you bought a Mac you got an AAUI port, which required an external transceiver ($100 IIRC) to be useful. If you bought a PC you'd get nothing and would have to add a LAN card, and maybe an AUI transceiver too (depending on whether the card had a built-in trans

      • LAN parties never made much sense to me.

        Well then let me break it down for you.

        LAN parties make sense even if everyone has Google Fiber. See, you're focusing on the LAN part of the description, and ignoring the "PARTY" half. Some people like dancing at parties, others like getting wasted, still others paint fingernails, and others still dress nicely and have a fancy dinner. There are people who prefer playing video games to those activities. When a group of people who enjoy video games wish to congregate and share in the activity of playing video

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Fortunately you can find RJ-45 ports on many 16 bit ISA cards that will work in an 8-bit port(e.g. 3c509). With such a card, and mTCP [google.com], you can network any IBM PC back to the 5150.

      There's something awesome about booting an XT class machine, logging in via FTP, uploading a game, and then just playing. No messing with floppy disk images, xmodem, or any such headaches.

    • Lanparty with all slashdotters participating? What can go wrong? :-))
      • by fisted (2295862)
        APK's network can and will go wrong, since his HOSTS file filters all those corrupt slashdot lusers .
    • by MrSteveSD (801820) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @08:49PM (#43808487)
      Those BNCs were pretty tough connectors. When I first got an IT job, the network consisted of two 486s connected via a BNC cable dangled over the carpet across the room. A clumsy co-worker tripped over it and both machines flew off the desks, hit each other in mid air like conkers and crashed onto the floor. The BNC cable and connectors were completely undamaged though.
  • Invented by this guy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Q&A with the inventor: http://www.reddit.com/r/tabled/comments/1erztm/table_iama_youre_probably_connecting_to_reddit/

  • good Ole Days (Score:5, Informative)

    by SuperTechnoNerd (964528) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:26PM (#43805535)
    " Ethernet is merely the RJ45 jack on the back of a laptop"
    When I started using it we had coax cables in daisy chain with 50 Ohm terminators at each end. I never forget spending all day trying to find out why the network was acting flaky, when just for kicks I changed the terminators and it worked. One of them was an open circuit. Go figure... We also had the 3Com 3C501 Ethernet cards the size of a bus (ok a full high/length AT card) which cost $500 each at the time. Ahh the good ole days...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:27PM (#43805561)

    Get off my lan.

    • by TeknoHog (164938) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:58PM (#43805861) Homepage Journal
      OMG, I just realized that WLAN is an anagram of LAWN.
      • by drcheap (1897540)

        OMG, I just realized that WLAN is an anagram of LAWN.

        Then get of my WLAN you high bandwidth whippersnapper!

  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:36PM (#43805639)

    Ethernet's fiber-optic wife left him for Wifi. His kids call the new guy daddy. The child support leaves him living in a run down shithole where he can barely even do 10 Mbps. Life just wasn't what he'd hoped it would be.

    • Should have shacked up with that hot little MIDI number who was left out in the cold as the poor man's network.
      Then again, any pair would probably end up twisted anyway. At least they could have made beautiful music together...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:39PM (#43805669)

    The spec might be 40, but 40 years ago was 1973. You could not buy anything Ethernet that early. None of it was actually available for sale until the early 1980s. I was there; I was involved in early implementations (anyone remember "thick wire" Ethernet, or the early DEC routers and bridges? Kinks and reflections?).

    That was actually one of the genius bits of Ethernet. It was designed (DEC, Xerox, and Intel) to do what needed to be done, not what could be done with the available tech. It took a while for the state-of-the-art tech to catch up with the spec. Which is why you couldn't buy any Ethernet equipment until around 1980.

    I'm just sayin', that for the people who were there, actually working in the field (not in a Xerox research lab), Ethernet is only around 33 years old. And it sure as hell didn't start out with RJ45 connectors!

    • And it sure as hell didn't start out with RJ45 connectors!

      Ethernet is the hardware equivalent of Fortran in the old prediction: "I don't know what the program^H^H^H^H^H^Hnetworking standard of the year 2000 will look like, but I know it will be called FORTRAN^H^H^H^H^H^H^HEthernet." :-)

    • by KGIII (973947)

      Digital Equipment Corp had a fab and R&D facility not too far from where I live. (Side note: Anything under a few hours isn't too far away in Mainiac lingo.) Chances are that any networking equipment from DEC came from Augusta, Maine. Here's a newspaper article:

      http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2209&dat=19761210&id=UaYrAAAAIBAJ&sjid=3_wFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6509,2109951 [google.com]

      I never did a whole lot with them. I worked with some of the DEC Alpha systems, which were a 64 bit RISC ISA, I dimly recall

    • by Smallpond (221300)

      To be fair, we were running 3 mbit CSMA/CD at C-MU until we could design 10 Mbit interfaces around 1980. I still have the DEC-Intel-Xerox blue book.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:41PM (#43805689)

    "For many people Ethernet is merely the RJ45 jack on the back of a laptop, but its relative ubiquity and simplicity belie what Ethernet has done for the networking industry and in turn for consumers and enterprises."

    This is one of the strangest sentences I have encountered in quite a while.

    First, "belie" is very definitely the wrong word to use here. It means "to show to be false". And second, Ethernet is ubiquitous largely because of its simplicity... there is nothing surprising about that.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Yeah anybody who had used the old thinnet could have told you why Ethernet was gonna win, everything else was a bigger PITA, not to mention how one bad spot or flaky terminator could take out an entire LAN whereas with Ethernet if one went down it didn't break everything else.

      So lets hear it for Ethernet, something that won NOT because some corporation rammed it through,or slipped enough money to the right hands, but because it was better than the alternatives.

      • by Nethead (1563)

        Friend, 10BASE2 AKA ThinNET is Ethernet.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10BASE2 [wikipedia.org]

      • by djlowe (41723) *

        everything else was a bigger PITA

        Not really. Back then, Ethernet was purely CSMA/CD (and later CSMA/CA), and at 10 Mbps a heavily populated network segment could quickly become saturated. Compare that to ARCNET, which, although it only ran at 2.5 Mbps, was token-based, and so scaled much better as nodes were added to a segment. In fact, overall throughput on an ARCNET LAN was BETTER than that of Ethernet then with equal numbers of nodes per segment as the node count increased.

        Later, Ethernet networks would

        • The problem however was that the ARCNET daisy chain had a fairly short maximum physical length before you got signal degradation. And repeaters usually only handled a few lines unless you wanted to spend a boatload of money, so it was common to extend your daisychains as long as you could before resorting to a hub or bridge.

          The reliability was good but moving machines (which happened a lot at the time there) was a pain in the butt.

          I, for one, welcomed Ethernet when it became affordable. I had become s
        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Uhhh...the article was discussing what we consider "modern" Ethernet, your classic Ethernet jack (RJ45 I think? Its too damned early for me to be technical) running a star topography, so I didn't think I needed to spell out what I was talking about since TFA was talking about the same thing. I have heard of grammar nazis but who would have thought there were networking nazis? Not talking about you, the 40 ACs that all rushed to "correct" me without even bothering to look at TFS much less TFA.

          And I never g

    • belie /bil/Verb
      1.(of an appearance) Fail to give a true notion or impression of (something); disguise or contradict: "his alert manner belied his years".
      2.Fail to fulfill or justify (a claim or expectation); betray.

      Synonyms
      contradict

      People look at it and think it's just a type of cable, without realising that it's the infrastructure that the entire networking industry relies upon. I score this as a correct usage of the word. Also, people assume that things going on behind closed doors must be more complex than they understand, so they imagine there must be something more complex than ethernet under the hood.

      • "I score this as a correct usage of the word."

        I don't know what dictionary you used, but the first definition at dictionary.com was the one I wrote above.

        While it might be an "acceptable" use, it is still an abandonment of the word's etymology and historical meaning, which was literally to "put the lie to", not just something that was deceptive. Acceptable? Maybe. But it's a definite distortion of the word's actual connotations. Remember that words have not just denotations but also connotations, and that ain't it.

    • by KGIII (973947)

      Be in contradiction with. That is the second definition in TheSage.

      So... Hmm... ...its relative presence everywhere and ease of is in contradiction with what the Ethernet has done for the networking industry...

      Maybe the author is trying to convey that many things tech related are complicated and difficult and thus this is surprisingly easy and effective?

      I'm not entirely sure, I'm not the author of course, but I agree that it is awkward as all hell. I'm thinking the above parsing may be what was intended.

      Hmm

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Us old farts who were actually working in the field at the time know you couldn't actually buy any Ethernet equipment until around 1980. I remember installing a "thick wire" LAN using DEC routers / bridges around then. The spec. might be 40, but you sure as hell couldn't buy anything in 1973.

    The genius of Ethernet was that DEC, Xerox, and Intel speced out what needed to be done, then went about developing the technology to implement it. Would that that methodology were used more!

    • The genius of Ethernet was that DEC, Xerox, and Intel speced out what needed to be done, then went about developing the technology to implement it. Would that that methodology were used more!

      Thus gave us the DIX ethernet connector... From DEC, Intel and Xerox...

    • Did y'all know that the original spec for Ethernet was to be a wireless network???
      • by Guy Harris (3803)

        Did y'all know that the original spec for Ethernet was to be a wireless network???

        One of the earliest networks allowing collisions and using collision detection was the ALOHA [historyofc...tions.info] network, and that was wireless, but that also wasn't Ethernet. Are you thinking of ALOHAnet?

        I can't find a copy of Metcalfe's "Alto Ethernet" memo, but this Wired article [wired.com] has a diagram from the memo that does include "radio ether" but also includes "cable ether" and "telephone ether".

      • by KGIII (973947)

        Cite? Not that I doubt you but, rather, that I think that the reading would be interesting. I did try the mighty Google with the terms "original spec ethernet wireless" and skimmed a couple of pages (including the history section at Wikipedia) and didn't find anything.

        Again, it is not that I doubt you or the likes - I'm just curious and would like to read.

    • by makapuf (412290)

      and yet, those geniuses and 33 years of improvement devised the most horrendous plug with this brittle plastic thing (no nylon, only super breakable transparent plastic) which breaks every. single. fucking. time and thus render your cable to something that unplugs when you look at it funny. Then begins the hunt of a new, perfect and all clicky cable which lasts 3 days and ... aaaargh ! who broke my plug !!!

      (* slow claps* well played, fucking geniuses.) - I know I'm bad faith, but still.

    • by Jesrad (716567)

      Thank you. I was born on September the 30th in 1980.

  • Now, where did I put those LANtastic disks? I need to get this 386SX on the network so I can share its Epson printer.
    • Left eyelid twitches uncontrollably. Fuck LANtastic, before I met _that_ I never thought anything could make Netmare 2 look good.

  • by SpeZek (970136) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @03:18PM (#43806059) Journal
    It's an 8P8C connector [wikipedia.org] on their laptop, not RJ45.
  • by rafial (4671) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @04:02PM (#43806493) Homepage

    ...but what happens to the bits is almost completely different. The original layer 1 (physical) layer stuff has evolved from the original idea of a shared broadcast medium (thick and thin coax up through the age of hubs) to nowadays being a point-to-point network managed through a centralized intelligent switch. And the layer 2 stuff (data link) evolved from the original spec of 1973 to the notably different 802.2 spec in 1983. In some ways, the great success of Ethernet is that it became the name we gave to whatever technology won out.

    • In some ways, the great success of Ethernet is that it became the name we gave to whatever technology won out.

      Of course, the only cooler name than ethernet would be æthernet. What other networking standard has a name that's a joke?

    • by fisted (2295862)
      No, you're mistaken. It can still operate on a shared medium, the abundance of cheap-ass switches (which aren't 'intelligent' as you call them) hasn't changed the actual technology.

      /. - get modded insightful for pointing out ethernet is point-to-point...
      • by LDAPMAN (930041)

        It can only operate on a shared medium at obsolete speeds. Gigabit Ethernet won't do shared.

    • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @06:43PM (#43807813) Journal

      In some ways, the great success of Ethernet is that it became the name we gave to whatever technology won out.

      No, ethernet remained relevant because it was able to improve, while maintaining backwards compatibility along the way, so your investment was never wasted.

      10Base-T cards still had BNC connectors on them, letting you transition smoothly from one to the other.

      100Base-Tx was backwards compatible with 10Mbps hubs & NICs.

      Gigabit offered backward compatibility with 100Base-Tx.

      Switching between fiber and copper is just a matter of swapping the GBIC/SFP transceivers in a switch, with the underlying device having no clue that the media is different.

      Newer standards retained backward compatibility with older, less robust cabling... From CAT-3 to CAT-5, to CAT-5e/6, to CAT-6a.

      Even though ethernet of today doesn't look like it did, originally. The upgrade path was always simple, smooth, and inexpensive, so it is very much an unbroken chain back to the beginning, and hooking up a modern PC to one of the first ethernet devices is a simple matter of physical-layer conversion.

  • For many people Ethernet is merely the RJ45 jack on the back of a laptop

    Laptops have no RJ45 jacks. Nor have desktops. They have 8P8C connectors.

  • by jasnw (1913892) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @05:18PM (#43807173)

    This really makes me feel like retiring! I worked at the USAF Global Weather Center (AFGWC) near Omaha in the 1970s where there was this mysterious computer referred to as a TIP which plugged into an even more mysterious ARPANET thing. We'd hang 9-track tapes and ship data back to research and archive centers on the east coast once a day. As a 2nd LT my time was deemed cheap enough to spend babysitting the transfer process (which often broke down). Time flies when you're on the 'net.

  • Consider 10 mbit ethernet on an early PC. It could push maybe 500K/sec. Figure a 4.77 Mhz 8088 had about 2500 K/sec of memory bandwidth. Ratio - 1/5.

    Now imagine if the common ethernet on your machine was 1/5th of the Memory bandwidth. Take a PC with 40 GB/sec of memory bandwidth. Imagine having 8 GB/sec over ethernet at a reasonable cost.

    Imagine the things we would be doing if we had that. Instead we commonly have 100 MB/sec. 1/40th of the memory bandwidth.

    Just think for a minute about how different

    • by tarpitcod (822436)

      Ugh tired brain syndrome - off by an order of magnitude!

      100 MB/sec over 40 GB/sec = 1/400th of the memory bandwidth. So a modern machine with 40 GB/sec of memory bandwidth and 1 gigabit ethernet has 1/80th of the network IO of the old PC.

You can do this in a number of ways. IBM chose to do all of them. Why do you find that funny? -- D. Taylor, Computer Science 350

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