In the song "Ten Years Ago," blues singer Buddy Guy laments, "Oh, I would like to go back 10 years." The thought of going back to 1995 is intriguing, as it was an interesting time in networking. The 1995 networking world was vastly different than the one I support today. Instead of variations of Ethernet, my team had to support Ethernet, token-ring and bisynchronous networks. Our cabling infrastructure contained ThickNet and ThinNet coax cables, Type 1 shielded twisted-pair, Type 3 unshielded twisted-pair and twinax cabling. As part of our infrastructure support we installed the appropriate connectors, so our tool kits contained drills for ThickNet vampire taps, crimpers for RJ-45 connectors and channel locks for Type 1 connectors. We carried various punch-down tools, tone generators and yellow "banana probes" to support the phone connections.
In 1995, we migrated our WAN from bridge-based 56K bit/sec point-to-point connections to a router-based frame relay infrastructure. IP was far from ubiquitous and protocols such as DECnet, LAT, SNA, IPX and NetBEUI had to be supported. We needed to understand IP subnets, DECnet Level 1 and 2 routing, IPX SAP update parameters, LAT timers, and SNA LU and PU addressing to create the proper router configurations.
In 1995 there was little separation between WAN, LAN, server operating systems and desktop support. It was all network -- so we supported it all. Windows NT was making headway in the server world, but OS/2 LAN Server held a larger market share and Novell was the acknowledged king of the network operating system. Desktops had to be configured to connect to NetBEUI-based NT and OS/2 servers, IPX-based Novell servers, SNA-based AS/400s and IP-based Internet access. We also had to support the marketing group that insisted on using Macintoshes running AppleTalk over LocalTalk. And there was the gray-suit techie wannabe who needed support for an application called Mosaic that accessed something called the World Wide Web. We knew that was going to be a waste of time.
Plug and play was a new concept, so we manually created the appropriate config.sys and autoexec.bat files to load the correct drivers in the right order. Many of the desktops had multiple network interface cards that required us to configure dip switches to prevent memory or interrupt conflicts. We also supported modem banks for dial-in connections, so we had to understand V.32, V.32bis and V.34 to configure the various modem scripts.
Today, much has changed. IP and Ethernet have become ubiquitous. Microsoft won both the server and desktop wars. And the World Wide Web dominates Internet networking.
Vendors install all my cabling. I haven't seen a dip switch or modem bank in years. I have no idea where to find the config.sys and autoexec.bat files on my Windows XP laptop. The only banana I care about is in my lunch bag, and my memory conflicts are confined to misplaced car keys.
Sorry, Buddy, you may want to go back 10 years, but I think I'll stay right here.
-- Yoke is director of strategy and architecture for a global travel and real estate corporation. He can be reached at email@example.com. -- Network World (US)
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