[TUHS] TUHS Digest, Vol 14, Issue 63

Larry McVoy lm at mcvoy.com
Tue Jan 17 02:44:21 AEST 2017

On Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 11:00:00AM -0500, Doug McIlroy wrote:
> The highest levels of AT&T were happy to carry digital data, but
> did not see digital as significant business. Even though digital T1
> was the backbone of long-distance transmission, it was IBM, not
> AT&T, that offered direct digital interfaces to T1 in the 60s.

AT&T seemed pretty clueless about networking.  I gave a short talk at Hot
Interconnects in the heyday of ATM.  Paul Borrill got me a speaking spot,
I wasn't well known person but inside of Sun I had been railing against
ATM and pushing for 100Mbit ethernet and Paul decided to see what the
rest of the world thought.

The gist of my talk was that ATM was a joke.  I had an ATM card (on loan
from Sun Networking), I think it was 155 Mbit card.  I also had an 
ethernet card that I had bought at Fry's on my way to the talk.
The ATM card cost $4000.  The ethernet card cost $49 IIRC.

The point I was making was that ATM was doomed.  This was at the time in
history when every company was making long bets on ATM, they all thought
it was the future; well, all meaning the execs had been convinced.

I held up the two cards, disclosed the cost, and said "this ATM card is
always going to be expensive but the ethernet card is gonna be $10 in
a year or two.  Why?  Volume.  Every computer has ethernet, it's gonna
do nothing but get cheaper.  And you're gonna see ethernet over fiber,
long haul, you're going to see 100 Mbit, gigabit ethernet, and it's
going to be cheap.  ATM is going nowhere."

There was a shocked silence.  Weirdest talk ever, the room just went
silent for what seemed forever.  Then someone, I'm sure it was an engineer
who had been forced to work on ATM, started clapping.  Just one guy.
And then the whole room joined in.

I took the silence as "yeah, but my boss says I have to" and the clapping
as "we agree".

At the time AT&T was the biggest pusher of ATM.  Telephone switches were
big and expensive and it was clear, to me at least, that AT&T looked at
all those cheap ethernet switches and said "yeah, let's get the industry
working on phone switching and we'll get cheap switches too".  Nice idea,
didn't work out.

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