[ih] The story of BGP?

Jack Haverty jack at 3kitty.org
Fri Feb 8 11:12:41 PST 2013

Agreed, NSFNET was a major driver of the EGP->BGP evolution.   I think
to understand the bigger picture of that evolution one should also
look at what was going on at the time outside the academic/research
community.  In particular, there was pent-up demand for solutions in
operational worlds in government and commercial uses.  There were also
companies trying to establish themselves as suppliers as the Internet
technology broke out of the research world - something DARPA et al
were pushing as "technology transfer" and encouraging COTS -
Commercial Off The Shelf solutions.   Everyone wanted products they
could just buy - and it was hard to get the idea of things like Dave's
"fuzzballs" through the approval chain.

I still recall one of innumerable meetings, sometime in the mid/late
80s.  The meeting was called by DCA, to discuss options for
incorporating those newfangled LANs into the Defense Data Network.
The focus was clearly on operational reliability, as opposed to
research.  There were a variety of government users there, but not
DARPA or NSF.  It was an "operations crowd".  I think it was held in
the bowels of the Pentagon.  Maybe 20 or 30 people total.

One of my roles at the time at BBN was running a "DDN System
Engineering" contract, whose work involved whatever it took to get
various government systems - computers, applications, etc., converted
over to use the Defense Data Network.  Those user systems by then all
had some LANs, and anticipated more, and wanted to know how to hook
that new stuff into the communications backbone.  That's why I was
sitting at the meeting.  The question was "what's the plan!?"

Another seat at the table was occupied by Len Bosack (one of the cisco
founders); cisco was a startup company at the time.  Len gave a
presentation about cisco's product (i.e., a COTS router), and how it
could be incorporated into the DDN environment to integrate LANs into
the overall system.  I don't recall his details, but clearly EGP had a
key role in such a picture.  It would allow each governmental unit to
manage and control its own environment, all of them linked together by
the DDN backbone - very similar to what the NSF environment did as

As "system engineer" contractor for DDN, I was asked "will Len's
scheme work?"  Literally.   Since this kind of scenario was precisely
what EGP was intended to enable, it didn't take long to say "Yes it
could work."   Everyone seemed surprised, and I remember explaining a
bit, in non-technical lingo for the brass, about autonomous systems
and the like.  I think they liked hearing someone from BBN say that,
since we were the ones who had gotten the DDN up and running.

In retrospect, I think they had all expected me, as the rep from BBN,
to say "Hell no, it will only work if you buy everything from BBN."
What I actually explained was that they could buy routers from any
vendor, including BBN, and the Internet system architecture would
support such a multi-vendor implementation (as Bob Kahn had promoted -
see my "subway strap" email).  Now you know why I wasn't in Sales...

They may have gone forward anyway with cisco (their router was *much*
less expensive), but I probably made it a lot easier by supporting the
"EGP/AS approach".

Of course, as technologists we all know that it isn't quite that
simple, and there had to be a lot of work to iron out a more robust
and powerful tool than EGP, suitable for large-scale deployment in
demanding situations.   I don't know anything about what happened
inside cisco after that DCA meeting, but I think it's no accident that
the BGP spec a bit later was co-authored by cisco.

Hope this helps reveal a little more of the history...

/Jack Haverty
Point Arena, CA
Feb 8, 2013

On Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 8:35 AM, John Curran <jcurran at istaff.org> wrote:
> On Feb 7, 2013, at 6:20 PM, Louis Mamakos <louie at transsys.com> wrote:
>> Some other random thoughts..
>> I think one of the drivers for a replacement for EGP was the arrival of the NSFNET, and the need to support a topology that wasn't the mostly-strict hierarchy that was rooted in the single set of core routers on the ARPANET.  The NSFNET backbone along with the various NSF sponsored regional networks as well as other research networks were quite a challenge to glue together, with somewhat ill-defined borders between networks and IGP domains that spanned multiple networks and their administrators.  A better tool was desperately needed.
> :-)
> One good place to find historic references to some of these challenges and
> changes is in the NSFNET sponsored "Internet Monthly Report" series... e.g.
> <ftp://ftp.funet.fi/index/netinfo/NSFNET/InternetMonthlyReport/IMR89-11.TXT>:
>      "...
>      Internet Monthly Report                                November 1989
>                              ROUTING AREA REPORT
>                          Director: Bob Hinden (BBN)
>      The major issue in this area is the topic of a standard internal
>      gateway routing protocol (IGP).  The IESG discussed this in detail
>      at the open meeting in Hawaii.  We plan to make this tpoic the
>      focus of a special meeting at the next IETF meeting at Florida
>      State University (Feb 6-9, 1990).
>      Because of its importance and its early promise, we have also
>      decided to form a WG to specifically examine at the experimental
>      Border Gateway Protocol (BGP).  One possible outcome would be for
>      BGP to eventually replace EGP as the exterior gateway routing
>      protocol.  Another possible outcome might be that the better parts
>      of BGP could become a basis for a new or better EGP.
>      Phill Gross <pgross at NRI.Reston.VA.US>"
> FYI,
> /John

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