Director of Computer Networks Division
USC Information Sciences Institute
Jon Postel is one of the genuine pioneers of the Internet, in part because he was at the right place at the right time.
While pursuing B.S. and M.S. degrees in engineering at UCLA in the late 1960s, Postel became one of the students involved in the Defense Department's attempt to create a network of computers that could communicate with each other after a nuclear attack. The result was Arpanet, which in 1969 linked UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, the Stanford Research Institute and the University of Utah.
It fell largely to Postel to keep track of the various protocol numbers and other information needed to keep the fledgling network organized. Even after leaving UCLA and going to work in computer research firms, Postel was the one to coordinate the allocation of domains on what was evolving into the Internet.
"The project that eventually became the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority was started simply because the coordination of addresses and names was needed as the Internet grew," said Ronald B. Ohlander, deputy director of the Information Sciences Institute at USC's School of Engineering. "Jon saw the need, proposed a solution, and took on the job of performing the function."
The job of coordinating all the universities, research groups and agencies eventually got to be too big for Postel to perform in his spare time, resulting in the creation of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority in 1988 with Postel as its director.
In that role, he has led the organization of top-level domain names essential in e-mail and World Wide Web services, such as "com," "org," "net," and "gov." In addition, his numeric Internet addresses are essential to the connection of end-user computers to Internet Service Providers, or ISPs.
In addition to his work with IANA, Postel is director of the computer networks division of USC's Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey. In that role, he has been a key developer of the Internet protocols that permit routing of information from computer to computer. He also has made many contributions at the applications level, including File Transfer, e-mail, and Telnet, which facilitates remote terminal access.
Postel's research has been supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation, among others.
Postel and his research team currently are working on protocols for much higher-speed networks, mobile computing, and new applications.
"I think the Internet will keep growing in all the ways it has: more connections internationally, more users outside the U.S., higher speeds, more interactive services, Internet telephony, breakthroughs on security for secure business transactions, and private person-to-person communications," said Postel, 55.
Postel likely will be involved in the continuing debate over what kind of governing system should be formed to supervise the Internet. But he says, "I'd like to spend more of my personal time on research problems rather than management activities."
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