[ih] Fwd: History of "accounts"

Guy Almes galmes at tamu.edu
Tue Feb 11 18:54:52 PST 2014

   Interesting observations/questions.

   I recall a meeting at Harvard's Kennedy School sometime about 1990 or 
so with people from several different countries discussing ways to 
ensure that the net was not overcongested (if I can be forgiven the 
arguable redundancy).
   It fascinated me.

   Some of the speakers were from parts of the world where the net was 
built around 64kb/s X.25 networks with a *relatively* strong notion of 
accounting.  At least at the X.25 layer, there were 'calls' and 
per-packet charges.
   They argued for the value of accounting.  They were coming from a 
mindset and reality in which resources were limited and careful 
accounting and charging was seen as a means of avoiding congestion.
   I say reality here to include the charging of the PTTs that dominated 
their world.  They could be forgiven seeing that PTT world as "the way 
things were".
   By the way, the very long distance intercontinental circuits were a 
particular focus of concern at that time.

   Most of the Americans in the room were fresh off the NSFnet effort in 
which stoking the infrastructure with bandwidth (between 1987 and 1989 
we'd seen the backbone bandwidth increase by a factor of 24 (56kb/s to 
T1) and three years later would see it increase again by a factor of 28 
(with T3).
   They argued for highly scaled best-effort service aimed at avoiding 
congestion by having lots of bandwidth.
   Accounting mechanisms, in their view, would add more congestion than 
it would remove.

   The Internet of today, largely, reflect that American 
experience/perspective.  Sometimes it's cheaper to stoke bandwidth in a 
simple network than to carefully account for usage in a more complex 

   Decades later that Internet approach (by no means purely or even 
primarily American now) continues to work quite well.
   What accounting there is is done at the "entrance ramps" -- with 
local ISPs in various different contexts -- and not so much with respect 
to the wide area infrastructure.

   Let me not predict the future (especially in the post-net-neutrality 
era), but I'm glad that the government agencies of 1990 didn't agree to 
impose accounting at that time.
   	-- Guy

On 2/11/14, 6:40 PM, Jack Haverty wrote:
> On Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 1:29 PM, John R. Levine <johnl at iecc.com
> <mailto:johnl at iecc.com>> wrote:
>     There really is nothing new about job accounting for expensive
>     equipment used for different jobs.
> Very true.   Management is about using resources, and you can't manage
> what you can't measure.  Fascinating discussion...   it got me thinking
> about the Internet (this *is* the internet-history list).
> In particular, is The Internet the first and only "infrastructure"
> (widespread resource used by everybody) that has been developed with no
> associated mechanism for accounting?   I can't recall a single protocol,
> packet header, or such mechanism, at least from the early days of
> 70s/80s, that had anything even resembling an "account" field to enable
> usage to be associated back to some specific "account".
> There were some attempts (I pushed on "usage accounting" back in the 80s
> but it got pretty much ignored), but I think nothing much ever developed
> ingrained in the Internet architecture.  The culture of the 60s/70s/80s
> was simply against it, and the ARPANET started, and ended, with no
> accounting.   Computers had accounting.  ARPANET, and the Internet, do
> not.  How come?
> I also can't offhand think of any other infrastructure without some kind
> of accounting or at least "feedback" mechanism to make usage visible to
> the user.   Transportation, energy, etc., all have had such mechanisms
> from their early days.   Anything that involves sharing a resource is
> likely to have some kind of accounting.
> I think this is changing now in The Internet, as usage skyrockets with
> video, and cellular carriers notice the costs of provisioning for use of
> such resources by masses of people as an everyday activity.    Millions
> of devices that all seem to need their software upgraded daily is
> probably a factor too.
> Is this finally the beginning of Internet accounting?   Is it A Bad
> Idea?   And is the Internet the first or only infrastructure to make it
> this far (approaching 1/2 of the world population!) without any such
> mechanism?
> /Jack Haverty

More information about the Internet-history mailing list