UW-Madison: Professor draws honors for formative computer network

CONTACT: Lawrence Landweber, [email protected]

MADISON – The Internet Society has tapped a precursor to the modern Internet – built under the leadership of a University of Wisconsin-Madison computer science professor – for the 2009 Jonathan B. Postel Service Award.

Computer Science Network (CSNET), was built in the early 1980s to bring together computer science researchers in university and private settings in much the same way a handful of sites had participated in the Defense Department’s ARPANET.

“In 1979, I realized it was really important for the computer science department here to be on a network, either the ARPANET or another network,” says Lawrence Landweber, UW-Madison professor emeritus of computer science and a leader among the network’s creators. “So we got a bunch of folks together, put together a CSNET plan and proposed it to the National Science Foundation.”

It took some persistence.

“People didn’t necessarily believe in 1980 that the Internet, or any network, was the way to go,” Landweber says. “We were turned away once, twice, three times before we received funding.”

UW-Madison’s Marvin Solomon (now computer science professor emeritus) and research associate Michael Litzkow developed the network’s name server, an early example of a distributed directory service to guide network communications. By 1985, the network grew to include nearly 200 universities and companies and tens of thousands of users while encouraging and supporting connections to nascent computer networks in countries like Germany, Japan, Sweden and Israel.

Lynn St. Amour, president and CEO of the Internet Society, said CSNET helped set the stage for the Internet that now reaches more than 1 billion people.

“CSNET’s community-driven, self-sustaining governance structure was an early example of the model that helps ensure that even as today’s Internet grows and evolves, it remains an open platform for innovation around the world,” St. Amour said in the society’s award announcement.

CSNET collaborators Peter Denning of Purdue University, David Farber of the University of Delaware and Anthony Hearn of RAND Corporation share in the honor with Landweber.

The Postel Award recognizes sustained and substantial technical contributions, community service and leadership.