Munchkins and IMPs, oh my! [Metcalfe]

Rohit Khare (
Wed, 16 Jul 1997 17:15:37 -0400

" The imp would discover its configuration and establish administrative
contact with any connected ISPs. Through such contacts, Internet addresses,
domain names, firewall filters, and similar administrivia could be assigned
with no (zero) local intervention."


June 30, 1997

Little imps could bring 'net plumbing to schools, businesses, and libraries

You stand a much better chance of getting what you want if you ask for it.
So this week and next, join me in asking for multimegabit Internet plumbing
that we can buy in 1998 for our small businesses, schools, libraries, and
homes. Let's not ask for more of the dial-up kilobit modems that separate
most of us from the Internet. Nor for bleeding-edge technology. Nor for
fractional gross national product infrastructure investments. Instead,
let's ask for simple interim repackaging on the low end of the
tried-and-true packet-switching Internet access technologies now in use at
larger businesses.

Let's ask for Internet plumbing consisting specifically of basement boxes,
which I'll call imps, and access facilities, called coppertone. This week
I'll sketch imps; next week, how the telopolies should divest our
coppertone facilities.

I'm estimating that $150 per month should more than cover amortization of
basement imps, compatible equipment at Internet service providers (ISPs),
and maintenance of multimegabit coppertone between them. On top of that,
we'll likely pay less than 3 cents per giga-packet-meter for any Internet
traffic our imps pass upstream.

Why am I calling our new little Internet boxes imps? Not because it's an
abbreviation for "Internet multimegabit packets," but because 27 years ago
the first big Internet boxes were called IMPs. Big IMPs then, little imps now.

Back when IMPs were IMPs, Internet 1.0 was called Arpanet. Each Arpanet
site -- mine was No. 6 -- got a router, an integral four-port hub, and a
pair of 50Kbps modems.

The router was a $100,000 minicomputer called an interface message
processor (IMP). The IMP and its modem cabinet were the size of
refrigerators. IMP hub ports ran at 100Kbps, typically to a time-shared
host and teletypes.

Well, there's been progress since 1970 -- for example, personal computers
and LANs. Hubs on the front end of today's routers have 10Mbps ports and
cost as little as $100. We don't mesh Internet sites directly to one
another anymore but go instead through ISPs. And the telopolies have over
that same period developed and introduced several daring new colors for
their 1959-vintage Princess telephones.

So let's ask for today's imp to be a low-cost combination hub, router, and
diskless administration server. I see it as a book-size, wall-mounted box
with a power cord, eight RJ-45 Ethernet ports, and some lights. Inside
would be a processor, RAM, ROM, and flash memory. Each imp would have a
serial number out of which a unique Internet address could be synthesized.

The imp would be the hub of a LAN operating through twisted telephone
pairs (preferably category 5). The imp would route packets between its LAN
and the Internet.

The imp would discover its configuration and establish administrative
contact with any connected ISPs. Through such contacts, Internet addresses,
domain names, firewall filters, and similar administrivia could be assigned
with no (zero) local intervention.

Our proposed imp would have, again, a power cord and eight Ethernet ports.
Ports one through four could be used for personal or network computers;
port five for a printer; ports six and seven, as below, to one or two ISPs.
And port eight could be used later for a local server to handle local mail,
the World Wide Web, and news.

Of course, not everyone has more than one PC, but many early adopters do.
So it would be a mistake for our imp to be a card. Even if you start with
one PC, you'll be thinking of two within a month. As your LAN grows, imps
could plug additional imps into their Ethernet ports.

Imps will access the Internet through their Ethernet ports. Typically, a
few feet away would be one or two imp-compatible packet media boxes. One
such box that I think we should be asking for most urgently has a power
cord, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, and an RJ-48C High-Bit-Rate Digital
Subscriber Line (HDSL) port. Another would have a cable TV modem instead of
HDSL. We should ask for many imp-compatible choices.

And we'll need inexpensive multimegabit coppertone to our ISPs.

So, how do imps sound? Would you buy some as specified? How would you
alter my spec? Do you know about any products that are close? RSVP.


Next week he added:


So, I propose small interface message processors -- not IMPs, but imps.
These imps will route Internet packets among their Ethernet ports and to
adjacent multimegabit Internet packet access demarcs (little pads to
complement our little imps). These pads will someday contain cable-TV
modems, satellite-tracking antennas, and eventually lasing diodes for fiber

But, in the long interim, we want High-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line
(HDSL) pads that exchange packets with ISPs at more than 1Mbps.

The pad I want in my basement has an RJ-45 Ethernet port for connecting to
my imp and an RJ-48C port for connecting via HDSL to my ISP. Getting copper
is the hard part of HDSL between RJ-48C pad ports and ISPs. Copper wires
are easy; the problem is rapacious telopolies.

The good news is that some of you can already buy inexpensive coppertone
from telopolies. My ISP and I got some coppertone just last week. Now,
don't ask anyone at your telephone company for coppertone or HDSL; this
will get you nowhere. Instead, order a "burglar-alarm circuit," put some
HDSL electronics at each end, and bingo, you can have 1.5Mbps for a
fraction of what telopolies charge for T1 lines.

The folks at my own ISP, Midcoast Internet Solutions, in Owls Head, Maine,
say that if Nynex allowed coppertone, they'd convert four of their five
1.5Mbps lines to HDSL and save $2,000 of the $3,000 they spend each month
on T1.

The bad news is that your local telopoly may not be willing to provide you
with burglar-alarm circuits. They may be planning to offer their own HDSL.
They, of course, don't want any competition while they're deploying ISDN
and their daring new colors for Princess telephones. They need the cash
from T1 overcharges to pay for mergers with other telopolies and ISPs.


Rohit Khare /// MCI Internet Architecture (BOS) ///
Voice+Pager: (617) 960-5131  VNet: 370-5131   Fax: (617) 960-1009