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Merit’s Past and Future Highlighted During 40th Anniversary Celebration

After 40 years of innovations, Merit Network celebrated the milestone at the Michigan Information Technology Center (MITC) with a day-long event filled with reflections on Merit’s past and glimpses into high-speed networking’s future.

Don Welch, Merit’s president, observed that Merit had contributed greatly to the human capital responsible for starting the Internet. Merit’s engineers devised numerous technologies responsible for interconnecting campuses within Michigan and also tackled the monumental task of managing and deploying a national network, the NSFNET.
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   Merit President & CEO Don Welch

Keynote Speaker

Dr. James J. Duderstadt, former University of Michigan president and current member of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Cyber-infrastructure Advisory Committee, noted how Merit’s path almost paralleled his in education during his keynote address. Duderstadt began his career at U-M in 1968, two years after Merit’s founding, and he described how Merit was able to secure support for its management of the NSFNET.

He expressed his belief that cyber-infrastructure will be instrumental in the future of education and described how institutions, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are putting their digital assets in the public domain on the Internet. Eight universities have partnered with Google to make volumes stored in their libraries available to full-text searching. He said that a “meta-university,” a global university built on the foundation of cyber-infrastructure, could be a reality in the future.

“I envision a time in the future where anyone with a moderate Internet connection would have access to broad sources of human knowledge,” Duderstadt said.

Recalling Past Accomplishments

As part of the 40th Anniversary Celebration, Merit welcomed back the pioneers and creative contributors who turned the concept of inter-campus networking into a reality, managed and deployed the NSFNET, and helped establish Merit as a leader in the field of advanced networking.

Allan Rubens, Mark Knopper, Dale Johnson, and Karl Zinn shared their impressions on Merit’s most significant contributions to networking.

Rubens believed that work on the NSFNET was Merit’s biggest success, but noted many other contributions including HERMES (dial-in access), Primary Communications Processor (PCP), Secondary Communication Processors (SCP), X25 Connectivity, and the creation of a three-node network.

Rubens told a story of how he and a group of Merit employees had to transport a large PCP computer in a truck to Western Michigan University and then about the challenge of having to expand the original three-node network to a four-node network when WMU joined Merit in 1978.

Later, Karl Zinn described how he wrote the proposal for the state of Michigan and the NSF to attain funding for Merit. He noted that Alan Smith, a founding member of Merit’s Board of Directors and Dean of the University of Michigan Law School, was instrumental in gaining support for Merit from the state and federal government. Zinn also stated that Merit’s most important contribution to networking was the collaboration the network allowed among students and universities. He pointed to Confer, an early form of a message board developed by Merit, as being an example of how community building and the exchange of ideas was attainable using a computer network.
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   Dale Johnson, Karl Zinn, Mark Knopper, and Allan Rubens

The Future

Along with highlighting Merit’s past, the event brought together Rick Summerhill (Intenet2), Pankaj Shah (OSCnet), and Mary Eileen McLaughlin (Merit) for a discussion on the role of regional networks and the future of networking.

Summerhill described the complexity of the new Internet2 network and how it relies on state and regional networks to aggregate traffic and connect users to Internet2. He said that regional networks, like Merit, were necessary to create nationwide network.

“The regional networks serve a key part in the national hierarchy,” Summerhill said. “The national architecture, the full architecture, is dependent upon the state and regional networks.”

One new project that Summerhill sees as being important for Internet2 and regional networks is eVLBI, which is testing the ability to dynamically create necessary network resources to support large research experiments in real time.

Next, Pankaj Shah outlined major projects in the future for OARnet and described how acquiring fiber for a network can lower costs for higher education.

Mary Eileen McLaughlin discussed Merit’s future plans to acquire fiber and the goal of creating a regional optical network.

McLaughlin also observed how students, universities and researchers are utilizing high-speed networks to collaborate, exchange data and provide unique opportunities for students. She cited an example of a sixth-grade student in Lansing communicating with Dr. Robert Ballard who was multicasting from a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, near the resting place of the Titanic.

“We were at a demonstration a couple years ago, and this sixth-grader comes up to the mic and says, ‘Hi, Doctor Ballard. Do you remember when we were at the Black Sea last month.’ He had made a connection with Dr. Ballard, and he thought they had gone to the Black Sea on an expedition the month before. That’s what makes (what we do) so great. It’s not about fiber or the network equipment. It’s about the sixth-graders, and the people who use it.”
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   President Emeritus, Eric Aupperle

Featured Speaker

For the final presentation, Eric Aupperle, President Emeritus for Merit Network, examined the different eras through Merit’s history. From the formative era to the implementation era and so on, Aupperle highlighted Merit’s accomplishments and encouraged participation from past Merit contributors to help flush out more details on projects.

When Aupperle talked about HERMES, Merit’s early dial-in service in the 1970s, Christine Wendt, the creator of Merit’s first how-to manual, mentioned that Merit’s network had online help, which would allow users connected via HERMES to get immediate technical support from a person in real time. She noted that Merit had that service available in 1976, years before similar online help was available from other places on the Internet.

Ribbon Cutting and Gala Reception

The Hands-on Museum of Ann Arbor, Internet2, MITC and Merit celebrated the creation of the Michigan Internet Museum and Hall of Fame with a ribbon cutting in the MITC Lobby. The Michigan Internet Museum and Hall of Fame will spotlight important contributions by Michigan residents to the creation of the Internet.

Finally, the Merit community gathered for a gala reception, where past Merit employees were able to meet with former colleagues and reminisce about old times.

About Merit Network

Merit Network Inc., is a nonprofit corporation owned and governed by Michigan’s public universities. Merit owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit Network has remained at the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking and IT solutions to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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