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St. David’s Day – how a Welshman helped the internet work

Wales flag on computer

St. David’s Day – how a Welshman helped the internet work

We’re delighted to have staff and clients on both sides of the Welsh border at Engage Web, showing that Wales is a digitally savvy nation where businesses recognise the value of an online presence. What’s perhaps not so well known is that if it weren’t for the work of a Welsh computer scientist, the internet may not function in the way it does today.

With today being St. David’s Day, it’s worth a look at the role of Glamorgan-born Donald Davies and how he conceived a data transmission method more than half a century ago that remains a big part of the internet today.

The concept of packet switching was experimented with by Polish-American scientist Paul Baran in 1960, but it was Davies’ work at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory five years later that opened up its potential as a tool to be used in computing, and it was he who gave the method its name. He performed this independently, not being made aware of Baran’s work until 1966.

In 1967, Davies was invited to work on the U.S. ARPANET project, which employed two technologies that went on to be pivotal to the creation of the internet – TCP/IP and the aforementioned packet switching, which involved grouping data into small components. One component would be the “header”, which is at the beginning of a block of data and allows the system to understand what the rest of the message relates to. The other part is the “payload”, which is the intended message itself.

Davies continued to work in computer networking throughout his life, becoming part of the International Networking Working Group in 1972. Two years later, he was acknowledged in the influential “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication” paper by Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf.

Later life saw Davies take a more prominent role in what is a crucial issue today – computer security. He teamed up with David O. Clayden in the early 1980s to design the Message Authenticator Algorithm, which introduced the concept of cryptography to computer network communication.

Davies passed away in May 2000, at which time Google was less than two years old and early social media sites like Friends Reunited and Myspace were yet to come into the word, let alone the likes of Facebook and Twitter, though the system remains the main way computer networks communicate around the world.

Obviously, computer networking has come a long way since 1965, but the work of its forefathers remains as important as ever. There’s no need to understand how the internet works in order to make an impression online, but the work of pioneers like Donald Davies ensures that it does. At Engage Web, we can help you get more business from yours, so whether you’re based in Wales, England or anywhere else, why not contact us to see what we can do?

John Murray

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