The Beginnings of Ethernet

Although not usually covered in training materials, it is interesting to note where Ethernet originally came from. Like many of the early networking protocols, the principles of Ethernet were developed inside a corporation that was looking to solve a specific problem.

Xerox needed an effective way to allow a new invention, called the “personal computer”, to be connected in its offices. In 1973, at the Palo Alto Research Center, researcher Bob Metcalfe designed and tested the first Ethernet network. While working on a way to link Xerox’s Alto computer to a printer, Metcalfe developed the physical method of cabling that connected devices to each other on an Ethernet network.

From that, Ethernet was conceived. Eventually, Xerox teamed with Intel and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to further develop Ethernet, so the original Ethernet became known as DIX Ethernet, referring to DEC, Intel, and Xerox.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) took over the LAN standardization process in the early 1980s. And, since that time, the IEEE has defined many Ethernet standards to support the widely varying needs for building a LAN, such as the needs for different speeds, different cabling types, trading off distance requirements versus cost, and other factors.

Ethernet has since become the most widely accepted and deployed LAN network technology in the world. It has grown to encompass new technologies as computer networking has matured. However, the mechanics of operation for every Ethernet network today stem from Metcalfe’s original design.

The original Ethernet concept described communication over a single cable that is shared by all devices on the network. Once a device was attached to the cable, it had the ability to communicate with any other attached device. This process allows the network to expand to accommodate new devices without requiring any modification to those devices already on the network.

Author: David Stahl

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