The Numbers are Incredible


I have a penchant for computer and networking history. I have worked professionally in the field for nearly 45 years and have written two books on the topic. We have seen tremendous changes, and we need to pause and reflect every now and then. Here is a photograph of 5 MEGABYTES of computer data stored as 62,500 punch cards.

This is roughly equivalent to one relatively short MP3 music track, or a modest jpg image, yet it would take something like FOUR DAYS to load into a computer such as the IBM 1401. Further, it would also require some 4 days and five hours to send it over the first packet networks.

The first networks connected users at 110 bps and used "high-speed" trunks of 2400 bps. A bit later, you could run bisync protocol connections at up to 9600 bps if you could persuade the phone company to deliver such incredibly high-speed connections. Then came 56 kbps for the trunks. That was interesting because they were horribly unreliable at first. In-band signaling would trigger "blue alarms," causing them to fail based on patterns in the data stream. Eventually, that was fixed, and trunk speeds went to T1 (1.544 Mbps), then DS3 (45 Mbps-and bogus blue alarms resurfaced there too).

At about this time, Ethernet replaced RS232 as the preferred client connection. Then, Ethernet framing was used on trunk lines, and speeds started dramatically increasing. Today, we have trunks of 400 Gbps, with Terabit Ethernet waiting in the wings, with client connections of 10 Gbps. 1 Gbps connections are ubiquitous. And today's computers are MILLIONS of times faster than the IBM 1401. An IBM 1401 required something like 12 minutes to compute a hash that today's decent laptop can do in 1/20,000th of a second. (That's 14 million times faster)

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