The Design

From ZaInternetHistory

It is just as well that there was no formal design process, and that the design of the system was not spelt out, because everyone would have laughed. This is what it looked like:-

  • Start with a Cyber 60-bit word computer that has a native character set in upper-case, and where lower-case ascii characters have to be kludged.
  • Write an internal mailing system in Cobol for the Cyber, catering for upper- and lower-case characters.
  • Use the Cyber NJEF package to link this mailing system to host computers that can handle IBM's RSCS protocol.
  • Use kermit to move mail spool files to hosts that cannot handle the RSCS protocols.
  • Use the Cyber as a gateway between the RSCS-hosts and the non-RSCS-hosts.
  • Use copper twisted pair cabling to link terminals to the this Cyber for distances of up to 2 Km in order to allow Rhodes staff to access the email.
  • On the Cyber, extract mail destined for the USA and further afield, and use a kermit-like transfer to move this mail into a Fidonet system running on a scrounged 286 PC with a 20 MB disk. Filter off mail for South African hosts that, for political reasons, were not allowed to use the international link.
  • Make the mail on the PC look as if someone had typed it directly into the Fidonet system. Merge this mail with any genuine Fidonet mail in preparation for transfer to the USA.
  • Dial to just about the furthest point in the USA, to the home of someone who does this for fun and has no obligation to assist in any way whatsoever, and transfer the mail into his PC, and receive incoming mail from his PC.
  • In the USA, distribute the mail into a UUCP dialup mailing network, and then into the Internet.
  • Incoming mail from the Internet will follow the reverse path until it reaches the 286 PC at Rhodes University, when it will be intercepted, the addresses examined, and most of that mail will move via a kermit-like transfer into the Cyber.
  • Use the Cyber as a mail switch to deliver the email via a variety of protocols (RSCS, kermit) to hosts at other universities in the country.

That, in broad outline, was what was implemented in the first gateway, and what ran for about 12 months or so as the only email link to the USA for the researchers and academics in South Africa. It went into full-scale production use at Rhodes in February 1989. It was a relatively simple technical step to change this to become a UUCP gateway, and then to become the Internet gateway, but it was a bit tricky to convince other universities and research computer centres in the country to agree that using the Internet protocols was a good idea.

Theorem: There is a lot that they don't teach in Computer Science.