October 1997

Divining the Future at ISPCON '97

by Robley Curtice

Late August the 1997 Internet Service Provider Convention (ISPCON 97) took place in San Francisco.

These are my notes from the convention.

The Keynote

Robert Pepper, the Communications Chief of the United States Office of Plans and Policy (OPP) was the keynote speaker. Pepper is responsible for policy questions that cut across institutional boundaries, especially concerning emerging technologies. His speech reflected his team management activities in implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The Future of the Internet

Although the keynote speech set the tone for the conference, the first hot button I'll cover is the speech by Rob Kolstead. Kolstead is president of Berkeley Software Design (of Colorado not of the University of California). His speech, entitled, "The Future of the Internet" (how many times have we heard this speech?), did provide some interesting updates. For instance, he noted that the Gartner Group (who are certainly respected by industry insiders) noted that in 1996 there were 7.5 billion dollars in software services on the Net which, they predicted, would grow to $12 billion in 1997 and $32 billion by the year 2000! In his opinion, it was the business market that was driving the Web, not the general public or the techies. It seems that networking in companies, which was unknown in its present form some three years ago, is exploding and taking the market with it.

After briefly mentioning the PC market (Kolstead thinks the PC market is moving, but not a lot), he moved on to what is thought a moribund operation system, Unix. The system is not dead, but its revenues are actually growing (some estimated 14% this year). His next thoughts concerned security, everyone's bugaboo. He reiterated what we had heard many times in the last two months: ActiveX is basically insecure and that Java is slightly more secure, although not in all features. Denial-of-service (where the computer is tied up but doesnt lose any data after being re-booted) attacks are increasing, but not fatal.


Here's another speech at every conference. It seems that the offered load on the internet doubles every three to four months, so is it ever going to get ahead of the game? UUNET, according to Kolstead, is working in the area of 10 billion hits a second and spends in the neighborhood of one million dollars a day on routers and switches. What a neighborhood!

Finally, Kolstead advised the ISPs to become Network Service Providers because this was the market that would sustain them during the coming amalgamation of the ISP world by the Big Boys. Business has found that networks, extrworks (networks between business partners) and Virtual Private Networks (routed encryption instead of direct lines) are very efficient and time-saving.

And finally something to throw into the mix: Wildcards that could change everything. A new true Killer App, for instance, that takes the world by storm would put a new face on the Internet. Conversely, a huge security disaster or a long-term communication outage would put a different spin on the Net.

Now we sit back in Barclay Loungers, savor Miller Time, and watch the unfolding story.

Robley Curtice (, a San Franciscan, is an early-retired teacher who haunts West Coast technical conferences searching for the 21st Century Killer App.

Copyright © 1997 by Robley Curtice. All Rights Reserved.

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