I.T. Times
Volume 2. No 3 Information Technology News of the University of California, Davis Spring 1994

The Evolution of the Network

by Catherine Curran, Planning, Strategy & Administration

The past 30 years have witnessed changes in the computing world that many of us never could have imagined. And those changes are creating opportunities for applications we have yet to imagine. As computing has moved from a mainframe to a distributed environment, individual users have gained greater access to information and more control over their workstations Here is a brief look at changes in computing that have led to the advent of Network 21.

The Mainframe

Introduced in the 1950s, the first mainframes were card punch machines used to tally data. Widespread use of mainframes became popular in 1960s, and in 1964 the Davis Computer Center was established on campus. Mainframes have tallied literally millions of test scores completed by school children using #2 pencils. Mainframes are still used for powerful applications such as the campus accounting program.

Personal Computers

Introduced in the early 1980s, personal computers took what was inside a mainframe and moved it to the desktop. The IBM-XT came standard with a 10 megabyte hard disk when it landed on desktops in 1983. It was hailed as a godsend to wordprocessors (then typists) and data entry operators. Information was easily updated and portable when stored on a floppy disk.

Seven years later, the XT was replaced by the 486, which has the power, speed and memory to process graphics, video and sound. PCs with even more power are entering the market today, and the more powerful computers will create opportunities for more sophisticated software applications. The two standard PC platforms are DOS and Macintosh. Consumer demand for computers has driven prices down, and today's powerful PCs often sell for half the price of their ancestors - the XT and 286.

The Modem

Users quickly recognized the need to share information and transfer data from machine to machine The modem addressed this need by enabling users to send files from one machine to another through telephone lines. Modems, used in conjuction with communication software, were (and still are) enlisted to send information near and far. Now, modems frequently serve as a network link by those wishing to gain access to information. For example, a user can dial into the campus modem pool managed by Communications Resources and establish a link with databases such as the MELVYL library system. Remote users also call into the modem pool to log into an e-mail program.

Like telephone users, modem users incur toll charges when applicable. If you live in Davis and dial into the campus modem pool, you will not incur toll charges since it is a local call. However, if you call the modem pool from Sacramento, San Francisco, or long distance locations, you will incur toll charges.

Local Area Networks (LANs)

Is it really efficient to transfer data from one machine to another in order to print a file? Why can't all computers in an office share the same word processing program? As users became more sophisticated, they began asking for simpler solutions. And the LAN came to the rescue. Local Area Networks make it easier for individual users to share information and resources. For instance, users linked by a network can e-mail without using a modem. The central computer that runs programs shared on the network became known as the server. LAN managers were quickly faced with new issues like user identification, system security, and platform compatibility

Distributed Computing Environment (Client Server Architecture)

Why be restricted to the home base? If you can share information locally, then why not share it globally? Thats just whats happening today. We now are part of an international network in which every user is a client and every resource is a server. Our PCs and the programs they store are making us mobile. What we are able to explore depends on the computer we are using -- the more powerful the better. For those who want to travel fast and frequently, good roads are vital. For UC Davis, Network 21 is the thoroughfare that will make the information highway accessible to all.