Bob Metcalfe returned to Xerox PARC to promote an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ethernet being defined there-and met an old pal in the process.
Metcalfe had come back to PARC to pitch an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ethernet and innovation in general. The event will include an innovation contest and a fundraiser for STEM education.
The power of open standards was one of the big lessons Metcalfe took away from the fights to define and establish Ethernet. At the time his archrival was IBM and its Systems Network Architecture, a stew of generally IBM proprietary technologies.
Metcalfe notes that Ethernet was invented at a time when IBM and AT&T were still giants that dominated the computer and communications landscape. “I think Ethernet took IBM by surprised and they never really got it, and I think it was what eventually brought IBM down” from industry dominance, Metcalfe said.
“In the mid ‘80’s IBM lost its power to make inexorable standards by simply announcing them, but it recovered and it’s now one of my favorite startups,” he quipped.
The other big lesson for Metcalfe is ‘build it and they will come.’
“Our original goal with Ethernet was to send a seven-bit ASCII character across and back in seven seconds,” Metcalfe said. “Internet traffic now consists of 86 percent video, but when we were developing the Arpanet we were not anticipating YouTube."
Expect the unexpected, and plow through critics who say we don’t need more bandwidth, said Metcalfe. He saw Ethernet rise from a few measly kilobits a second to 100 Gbits/s today.
“From the bandwidth viewpoint every single time there’s a chorus saying we have enough bandwidth and every single time so far there has been elasticity of demand,” he said.