How Networking Underpins Technology
Networking and systems professionals play a central role in the information technology industry. To find proof of this, you don’t have to look further than the list of vocational communities on this site. Can you find one that networking doesn’t impact in some way? Wireless, security, storage, open-source—all are substantially influenced by the job role that dominates the IT workforce in both effects and numbers. Because of the weight networking carries in technology, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the rise of networking and where it stands today.
A (Very) Brief History of Networking
Although the first example of networking through technology arguably began in the 1870s with Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, for this audience we’ll start in 1939. This was the year Englishman Alan Reeves devised pulse code modulation (PCM), a means of transmitting virtually (no pun intended) any kind of data: books, films, songs, you name it. This was the beginning of binary, which was expressed in digits 1 (high logic) and 0 (low logic). However, Reeves’ invention was not practical for the general public’s use—yet.
In 1957, the U.S. Department of Defense formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik satellite. In the late 1960s, the ARPANET project commenced with a network of four computers in Cambridge, Mass. ARPA designed the network to help scientists and engineers collaborate on assignments. This unexceptional beginning (or so it would seem today) directly led to the development of the Internet.
Several of the ideas that made networking feasible for the widespread dissemination of information, news and entertainment came out of the ARPANET project. A couple of these include packets, or pieces of data routed over a network, and TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), which is essentially the idiom of the Web. In the 1980s, ARPA handed ARPANET over to the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET, which in turn handed over the vBNS (very high-speed Backbone Network Service) in the 1990s to a consortium of organizations that included MCI and IBM. The Internet was born.
It can be hard to pin down networking as a profession these days. Networking can be partitioned into a variety of subsets, including configuration, physical distance, modality, links and users. This is great for businesses, which can find suitable individuals to devise the best network to connect their workforce to each other and to customers. It’s also beneficial for IT professionals, who benefit from the wide variety of highly technical niches. This creates occupational security because it’s difficult to automate or outsource these specialized and mission-critical technologies.
Broadly defined, networking is the installation, configuration, management, maintenance and troubleshooting of two or more linked computers. Within that general explanation are local area networks (LANs), which share a single communications line or wireless link within a single processor or server that serves a small locale, metropolitan area networks (MANs), which cover a town, city or large cluster of buildings, and wide area networks (WANs), which span whole geographic regions.
Of course, there also are topologies such as the Token Ring, which has a circular structure, bus, which has units feeding into a single line, and star, which has a central computer branching out to the rest of the network. And we can’t forget communications (data, voice or both) and transmission technology (systems network architecture or TCP/IP). I could go on and on and on.
Networking and Technology
It’s easy to see networking’s impact on technology as a whole. Just try this exercise: Take every networking product or service out of the technology picture today and see what you have left. For starters, no Internet—no connected computers at all, for that matter. You’d have no e-mail and no instant messaging. Forget about cell phones or phones of any kind, really. Ditto for fax machines. Cable and satellite television would be gone, as would radio broadcasts. Without networking, how in the world would people communicate with each other? Smoke signals? Pony Express?
This exercise gets to the heart of why networking is so important: It facilitates communication and collaboration, which have been essential to our survival since our first ancestors went on Mastodon hunting parties. Human progress owes a great deal to networking. So thanks network and system admins. We at CertMag salute you and your contribution to civilization.
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org