The following text is copyright 1996 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

It can't be dead, it hurts too much.

Its dueling columnists time. Bob Metcaffe mentions me in his column so I guess its only fair to mention Bob in my column. I show up in Bob's last column as part of some vague (and somewhat sinister and at the same time, out of it) "intelligentsia" that would deny the truth about the state of the Internet. I expect he is reacting to my column of a few weeks ago (A lively death indeed.) wherein I said that the Internet was not a "thing" that can collapse - along the same lines that the interstate highway system is not a "thing" that can collapse.

Bob accuses those in this intelligentsia of all sorts of evil things but mostly of blindly thinking the Internet is somehow perfect despite the lack of security, quality of service guarantees, and management or billing systems. (The way he uses the term intelligentsia makes us seem like some sort of slime. I will say that, if I'm going to be slime, I'd rather be slime with Dave Clark in the same bucket than with some other people I could mention.)

I think Bob is engaging in more than a little bit of hyperbole. The first column that I saw in the "Internet is about to die" series was published surrounded an ad whose headline read "Got any hot buttons you would like pushed?" I think Bob is doing a bit of button pushing. He has succeeded in getting a number of the operators of the current Internet service providers more than a bit hot under the collar. I think he has some quite valid point but it do take a bit of holding of the nose to dig in and find them.

I maintain that the Internet is a collection of networks, i.e. the classical definition. These networks range in scale from the local Ethernet LAN in my building at Harvard to the OC3 (soon to be OC12) backbones of some of the major providers. Their operators range in business acumen from high school students running a local ISP out of their mom's basement or, at best, a shoestring and little or no technical expertise, to some of the big boys with very big budgets and dozens of people with years of experience running large data networks. Some of these networks, the constituent parts of the Internet, are truly awful. They are woefully undercapitalized and pitifully short of technical ability (but often long on hyperbole). I've seen packet losses as high as 95% through some of these "providers" in some cases. But to me that is a bad component not a collapsed system. The net is not dead but it sure hurts to try and use some of it.

I expect that there will be a rather difficult shakeout within the ranks of ISPs in the next few years. Customers will learn that hyperbole does not move bits. But I also expect that the Internet will continue to be made up of parts, not all wholly good. This will mean that with the Internet, as it does with most services, quality will continue to depend on who you buy from.

By the way Bob, if you actually think that parts of the intelligentsia (like Dave and me) don't know that parts of the net suck (to use the technical term) or that improved security and QoS technology is needed you have not been following what we are doing to try and get just that sort of thing defined, implemented and deployed.

disclaimer: No part of Harvard sucks (or so I must say) but the above rebuttal is only from me.