My wakeup call came at 5 A.M. I found my way into a cab, met Dennis at the airport, and flew to Amsterdam. We hailed a cab to the EBONE meeting being held in the Tiger Room at the Artis Zoo. En route, our cabbie regaled us with obscene animal jokes.
When we arrived at the Tiger Room, the meeting had started already, with 35 deadly serious people sitting around a large square formed by long tables. Kees Neggers, co-managing director of SURFnet, chaired the meeting, which included most of the major networking players in Europe.
The idea behind EBONE was quite simple. Until the Commission got its act together, people would pool existing resources and form a voluntary, interim consortium. If and when the EC or some other body started operating a more formal backbone, the consortium would disband.
A consortium like this was an incredible balancing act. Deep religious barriers divide Europe. Some people insisted that any workable network must be based on OSI, the Connection Oriented Network Service (CONS), and X.25. Others preferred TCP/IP and leased lines. To make a workable backbone, enough of these players had to be convinced to sign up to the EBONE concept.
Kees Neggers and a few others had formulated a memorandum of understanding which would form the “gentlemen’s agreement” to put EBONE into being (the word “gentlemen” being appropriate for this almost exclusively male enclave). The gentlemen were walking through the draft word by word.
The basic concept behind EBONE was that all organizations signing the memorandum would make some form of contribution in return for being able to use the backbone. Some would contribute lines or routers, others would contribute people, and a few would even contribute money.
All the resources would be a loan to EBONE. At the end of 1992, everything (except the money, of course) would revert back to the contributors. The hope was that by the beginning of 1993 some formal group would be in place to handle the pan-European backbone and EBONE would be unnecessary.
One of the biggest items of debate was who would or should be the parent organization that would replace EBONE in 1993. Some wanted the Réseaux Associés pour la Recherche Européenne (RARE), the association of research networking groups in Europe, to play a role. Others wanted no such thing. Kees Neggers continually refocused the discussion on 1992, emphasizing that EBONE was making no decisions about anything past the one-year interim ad hoc network.
The EBONE backbone, like the NSFNET, would have no directly attached users. It would be connected to regional systems, such as SURFnet, which in turn would be connected to users. The backbone would be a diamond, connecting four major European cities. On at least two points on the diamond there would be links to the U.S. (A few months later, the initial 1992 topology was finally determined to be five major hubs—London, Montpellier, CERN, Amsterdam, and Stockholm—connected with 256 kbps to 512 kbps links and with three links to the U.S.)
The network, unlike NSFNET, would have no restrictions on the content of traffic. Although targeted for the benefit of academic and research use, commercial traffic could pass over the backbone and it was up to each regional network to determine an appropriate use policy. Likewise, although EBONE was envisioned primarily as a TCP/IP backbone, it was explicitly multiprotocol. An OSI “pilot service” was listed in the draft memo as one type of traffic, and others were alluded to.
Much of the wording of the memo was quite delicate. For example, EBONE was described as providing “value-added open networking services.” Why these particular words?
Well, networks are the domain of PTTs in Europe. If you leave out the word “value-added,” you tread on the turf of the PTT. Likewise with the word “open.” Many countries had decided that open networks (i.e., OSI) were crucial and they would not participate in EBONE unless the word open was used.
Other types of wordsmithing at the meeting reflected the cultural differences of the 35 participants. For example, the backbone had been described as being “redundant.” In England, when you fire somebody, you “make them redundant.” “Resilient” proved to be a better word.
Lunch at the zoo consisted of frantic huddles among various factions. While I enjoyed a delightful buffet of eel and pate, others were desperately trying to forge a consensus.
Issues like the role of DECnet proved to be especially tough. Some people wanted to allow DECnet Phase IV traffic across the backbone. Others said that this wasn’t necessary as DECnet Phase V would be able to use the ISO CLNS service. It was finally decided not to decide. DECnet traffic could cross the backbone if the two ends of a link decided it was allowed and it didn’t adversely impact the operation of the backbone.
Carrying DECnet traffic was in some ways a foregone conclusion. Some of the links being contributed to EBONE were multiplexed into underlying lines. These underlying lines were not an EBONE issue and could carry DECnet, SNA, and any other kinds of traffic.
EBONE was clearly a chicken-and-egg situation. Many organizations would be unable to persuade their management to join until the consortium existed. The consortium wouldn’t exist until enough organizations joined.
At the end of the day, with all the words finalized, Kees Neggers went around the table and asked people to tell the group if they would join, and, if so, what their contribution would be. To start things off, SURFnet would donate ECU 300,000 (U.S. $369,000) worth of lines, routers, and people.
Others joined in. The Spanish network would help the line costs of the backbone and would donate 35 percent of a person. Telecom Netherlands, if the EC approved, would provide a gateway to IXI, the large European X.25 network funded by the Commission.
Dennis Jennings at UCD would use the IXI links to reach EBONE, as would many of the smaller countries. Dennis also had an unusual contribution of money. He offered ECU 10 per full time academic staff member at University College Dublin, for a total of ECU 8,000 (U.S. $9,840). Not a huge sum, but Dennis pointed out that if every university in Europe adopted his formula, the network would have a budget of ECU 10 million per year.
Many groups were unable to commit immediately. Brian Carpenter, head of networking at CERN, the international physics laboratory, had to get approval from all his member countries and would ultimately end up “supporting” EBONE instead of formally signing the memorandum. The European BITNET, EARN, wanted to commit a line to CUNY in New York, but had to wait until its board met to commit formally.
On the opposite side of the room from Kees Neggers was Harry Clasper, the representative from IBM. IBM ran EASInet, a large European network. Its contribution of lines would be a significant addition to EBONE.
Throughout the day, Harry Clasper had been a vocal participant. Dressed in a regulation IBM pinstripe suit, he had been carefully tracking the proceedings. When the question of contributions reached him, he began speaking in a quiet voice and the room strained to hear him.
“I’m disappointed that this is not as open as it could be, and therefore IBM Europe is reserving its position at this time.” IBM had substantial SNA traffic in EASInet and was clearly worried that if they joined the EASInet, sites might have problems.
Even with IBM sitting on the fence, however, it was clear that there was enough to make EBONE work. After IBM, groups like EUnet and NORDUnet added substantial contributions.
Finally, the end of the table was reached. The last person to speak was Bernhard Stockman from NORDUnet, also an active participant in the IETE. NORDUnet had already made known its contribution, but Bernhard had one thing to add.
“I will take everything you contribute and turn it into something that works.” Bernhard would help form the Ebone Action Team, the engineers who would try to rationalize the contributions into a network.
With EBONE becoming a virtual reality (it would still take several months to get all the pieces in order), Kees Neggers made one more round around the table to see if anybody would be interested in being on the management committee. Harry Clasper from IBM raised his hand.
“If IBM were to commit, I would like to be on the management committee.”
Everybody laughed and the meeting was adjourned. A half-dozen of us took a tram to the railway station to have a few beers and conduct a post mortem. Kees Neggers, Harry Clasper, Dennis Jennings, and myself sat with some beers while Kees and Dennis worked on the IBM position. Harry Clasper, like some pin-striped corporate Buddha, sat quietly and drank his beer.
Finally, Kees left to catch his train to Belgium and Harry, Dennis and I all boarded the express train to the Schiphol airport. We were cutting it a bit close, but the 18:26 train left us just enough time.
“Don’t worry,” Dennis reassured us, “you can set your watch by the Dutch trains.”
I looked out the window as 18:26 came and went. Finally, ten minutes later, an announcement came across the intercom in Dutch and people start gathering things and got off the train.
A mob of 100 or so people all sprinted over to another track to catch the local train. On the local, we began doing mental arithmetic. The conversation quickly went from European infrastructure to travel horror stories then to nervous silence.
Arriving at the airport train station at 7:10 for 7:30 flights, the three of us took off in three separate directions, each of us doing an O.J. Simpson imitation. Despite an airline clerk who gave new meaning to the term lethargic (although that was certainly not the word I used at the time), I made it to my plane for London.