[AfrICANN-discuss] Internet pioneer joins board of ICANN
annerachel at gmail.com
Sat Oct 6 20:13:45 SAST 2007
*Internet pioneer joins board of ICANN*
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*01.10.2007 - * An Irishman whose strategic decision in the 1980s with the
US National Science Foundation led to the creation of the internet as we
know it today has been nominated to the Board of the Internet Corporation
for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The former head of UCD's Computer
Science Department and founder of the IEDR, Dennis Jennings, while in charge
of the supercomputing initiative at the US National Science Foundation in
1983, decided to take DARPA TCP/IP protocols out of the military world and
into the university world.
This move paved the way for the internet that we know today.
Jennings is modest about his contribution to the internet: "If I didn't do
it someone else would have. But it is true that I made the decisions that
led to the internet as we know it. I was the first person in the US to talk
about an 'internet' and the first to create a network that incorporated all
the other networks in the US at the time."
The internet was originally born in the 1950s as the ARPA (Research Projects
Agency) Net in response to the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik. By the
1970s ARPANET was split in two — into a network for military called the
MiliNet and as a network available only to a select few researchers.
In the 1970s Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn created the world's first TCP/IP
protocols but things really began moving in 1983 when Jennings made his
decision to use these new protocols in the world's first backbone and open
up the internet to computer science departments in universities across the
"Our ambition was to link all 300 universities in the US to create a
national centre for research. While it was ambitious at the time we had no
concept that the internet would grow the way it has.
"I knew Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn and they understood that there could be many
networks — radio, copper, leased line, and so on — and that no single
network would reach everyone so a language was needed for data to transfer
from one computer to another regardless of what network — that was TCP/IP.
"By the time I left the NSF in 1986 I had spent US$17m of US Government
money but knew I had started something big," Jennings recalls.
Jennings return to Ireland began a period of what he describes as
frustration. "I could not talk about my experiences. Everything in Europe
officially adhered to a different standard known as the Open Systems
Interconnect (OSI). The problem was OSI didn't work very well but no one
wanted to listen.
"I call this period 'the Protocol Wars' — it was nasty, vicious, stupid and
a waste of time. Eventually OSI disappeared."
It was the early 1990s with the onset of the Mosaic browser and the European
backbone network (Ebone) that TCP/IP began to appear on local networks in
"I was running computer services in UCD and I was on the board of HEAnet at
the time. It took Europe a while to catch on but when it happened it
happened fast as European researchers began to demand the same capabilities
as their US counterparts."
In 1992 Jennings was also instrumental in the creation of the .ie Domain
Name Registry (IEDR) which he helped run until 1999 from UCD's computer
It was in the early Nineties that Jennings also became a technology
investor, being involved in the start up of companies like Baltimore
Technologies, Euristix, Ntera and WBT.
"In the Eighties we weren't very confident in Ireland we saw everywhere else
in the world as bigger and better. But my eyes were opened when I was in the
US. I discovered everyone else was just like you and me and that we could
take them on and be better."
Jennings got a handsome return on his investment in Euristix in 1999 when it
was bought by Fore Systems for US$81m. Fore Systems was then subsequently
bought by GEC-Marconi for US$2.8bn.
While Jennings refuses to say the deal made him a wealthy man he admits he
was able to take a career break from UCD and consider other opportunities,
particularly investing in young technology companies as an angel investor.
Along with his friend Ray Norton, former head of Siemens Nixdorf in Ireland,
he approached Dolmen Securities' Ronan Reid about establishing a venture
capital fund for commercialising university research and Fourth Level
Ventures was born.
"We work very hard with companies before we invest in them. We've invested
in 12 companies and at least half of those are looking very promising. One
thing you learn as an investor is that if things could possibly go wrong
they more than likely will. Also you learn that costs are certain, revenues
Jennings describes being nominated to the board of ICANN, which is
responsible for international domain name policy, as a great honour for an
He will take up the position at the end of October. He says a reason why he
was selected out of 70 names put forward was his combination of internet,
management and commercial experience.
"I'm a physicist by education but I've a lot of research experience, I've
been involved in networking globally, setting up domain name registries,
investing in technology companies and running venture capital firms. I
suspect my profile is a little unusual. I guess the hope is to bring
different point of view."
Jennings says that one of the prime challenges facing ICANN is the
introduction of International Domain Names (IDNs) other than in Latin
script. "We need to create top-level domains that take into account Chinese
and Arabic script. These have to be introduced and we need to ensure they
are fairly competed for."
He says the issue of IDNs will be important to international commerce. "If
you're a Western business, reaching out to a Chinese market of over 2
billion people, for example, will be important.
"IDN is one of the most important challenges facing ICANN over the next year
or so," Jennings concluded.
By John Kennedy
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