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Unsung internet pioneer awarded society's distinguished fellowship

John Kavanagh
An unsung hero in the international development of the internet has been made the 24th BCS distinguished fellow.

Peter Kirstein's nomination for the society's highest honour said, "There would be no global internet without Peter Kirstein.

"The impact of the web on everyday life would be a pale shadow of what we see today without his relentless pursuit of connectivity outside the US."

Kirstein, director of research and professor of computer communications systems at University College London (UCL) and a BCS fellow, has been involved with the development of the internet since the early 1970s.

"In 1973 he negotiated a series of research and development projects that stressed internet protocols to breaking point, and then ran the projects to enhance the system to fix those problems. This process continues today," said the nomination by Jon Crowcroft, a BCS fellow and Marconi professor of communications systems at Cambridge University.

"In the 1970s the goal was to interconnect computers in the UK and Europe to the emerging US Arpanet. This led to the idea of a concatenation of networks run over the wide area, including the Satnet Atlantic packet satellite network, the Arpanet and others.

"However, administrative and security problems caused by interconnecting multi-agency networks in the 1980s led to the need for policy control of routes and to the development of BGP, the protocol used to interconnect all the world's internet service providers. UCL contributed to the development of BGP.

"In the late 1980s it became clear that the global community of researchers needed tighter collaboration, and Kirstein engaged in another sequence of projects funded by the European Union and the US to develop and deploy a set of multimedia collaboration tools and network support. These now allow real-time video and audio access as well as shared editing of documents.

"In the 1990s Kirstein engaged in the IPv6 programme, especially in Europe and with its neighbours. He made connections with groups in the Far East and for the first time a large-scale effort was made across the networking community.

"Most recently he has been involved in high-performance networks, contributing to the case for the UKLight network, which will provide multiple, multi-gigabit-per-second wavelengths between the UK and Europe and the US to support e-science collaborations.

"He has also been involved in projects with libraries, directory services, secure e-mail, certificate authorities and so on.

"Kirstein's contributions have been selfless and are visible in the infrastructure all around us. His choice of direction has always been supported by a clear understanding and documentation of the comparative performance and functionality of the alternatives."

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