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Category: networking fundamentals

How Did We End with 1500-byte MTU?

A subscriber sent me this intriguing question:

Is it not theoretically possible for Ethernet frames to be 64k long if ASIC vendors simply bothered or decided to design/make chipsets that supported it? How did we end up in the 1.5k neighborhood? In whose best interest did this happen?

Remember that Ethernet started as a shared-cable 10 Mbps technology. Transmitting a 64k frame on that technology would take approximately 50 msec (or as long as getting from East Coast to West Coast). Also, Ethernet had no tight media access control like Token Ring, so it would be possible for a single host to transmit multiple frames without anyone else getting airtime, resulting in unacceptable delays.

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Video: Retransmissions and Flow Control in Computer Networks

Grouping the features needed in a networking stack in bunch of layered modules is a great idea, but unfortunately it turns out that you could place a number of important features like error recovery, retransmission and flow control in a number of different layers, from data link layer dealing with individual network segments to transport layer dealing with reliable end-to-end transmissions.

So where should we put those modules? As always, the correct answer is it depends, in this particular case on transmission reliability, latency, and cost of bandwidth. You’ll find more details in the Retransmissions and Flow Control part of How Networks Really Work webinar.

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On the Usability of OSI Layered Networking Model

Two weeks ago I replied to a battle-scar reaction to 7-layer OSI model, this time I’ll address a much more nuanced view from Russ White. Please read his article first (as always, it’s well worth reading) and when you come back we’ll focus on this claim:

The OSI Model does not accurately describe networks.

Like with any tool in your toolbox, you can view the 7-layer OSI model in a number of ways. In the case of OSI model, it can be used:

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Video: The Need for Network Layers

After identifying some of the challenges every network solution must address (part 1, part 2, part 3) we tried to tackle an interesting question: “how do you implement this whole spaghetti mess in a somewhat-reliable and structured way?

The Roman Empire had an answer more than 2000 years ago: divide-and-conquer (aka “eating the elephant one bite at a time”). These days we call it layering and abstractions.

In the Need for Network Layers video I listed all the challenges we have to address, and then described how you could group them in meaningful modules (called networking layers).

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Video: Beyond Two Nodes

In the introductory videos of How Networks Really Work webinar I described the mandatory elements of any networking solution and additional challenges you have to solve when you can’t pull a cable between the adjacent nodes.

It’s time for the next bit of complexity: what if we have more than two nodes connected to the same network segment? Welcome to the world of multi-access networks and data link control.

You need free subscription to watch the videos in Overview of Networking Challenges section, or a paid subscriptions to watch the rest of the webinar.

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Video: Introducing Transmission Technologies

After discussing the challenges one encounters even in the simplest networking scenario connecting two computers with a cable we took a short diversion into an interesting complication: what if the two computers are far apart and we can’t pull a cable between them?

Trying to answer that question we entered the wondrous world of transmission technologies. It’s a topic one can spent a whole life exploring and mastering, so we were not able to do more than cover the fundamentals of modulations and multiplexing technologies.

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Video: Networking Challenges

Whenever you’re discussing a complex topic it’s worth adhering to two principles: (A) identify the challenges you’re trying to solve and (B) start as simple as you can and add complexity later.

We did exactly that in the Introducing Networking Challenges part of How Networks Really Work webinar. We started with the simplest possible case of two computers connected with a cable… and even there identified a plethora of challenges that had to be solved more than half a century ago (and still have to be solved today no matter what magic software-defined technology someone pulls out of their wizard hat).

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The First Networking Fundamentals Videos are Online

In mid-June I started another pet project - a series of webinars focused on networking fundamentals. In the first live session on June 18th we focused on identifying the challenges one has to solve when building an end-to-end networking solution, and the role of layered approach to networking.

Not surprisingly, we quickly went down the rabbit holes of computer networking history, including SCSI cables, serial connections and modems… but that’s where it all started, and some of the concepts developed at that time are still used today… oftentimes heavily morphed by recursive application of RFC 1925 Rule 11.

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