Starting MRNet

In late August 1987, having overseen the establishment of the University of Minnesota’s first ARPANET connection to the IMP in Madison Wisconsin, I secured support from Steve Wolf, director of the NSF networking division, for the establishment of a new NSF affiliated regional network to serve Minnesota. In my capacity as Director of the Networking group at the Minnesota Supercomputer Center, I sent a proposal and invitation to ten educational institutions and commercial concerns in Minnesota, including Cray Research, UofM, Mayo Clinic, 3M, etc. As a consensus builder I wrote:

“This document proposes the creation of a low overhead, regional TCP/IP based computer internetwork to serve local computer systems vendors, academic institutions, and research institutions in the north central area. While this proposal does present some of the issues of motivation and an actual implementation, it is primarily intended as an invitation to potential network participants, and thus the attached discussion is only to help characterize the proposed project. It is assumed that one result of an initial meeting will be to set up task groups that will present technical and management proposals for adoption through a vote.”

During September I guided the establishment of by-laws and on September 23, 1997 we signed them and declared MRNet self-established.

Later I wrote the following mission statement and got it adopted by the membership:

“The Mission of MRNet is to enhance the educational, research and economic environment of the state through the use of computer and information networks. In this regard, MRNet shall be a focal point for inter-organizational computer and information network activity, and promote, coordinate, represent, and provide for the growth of computer and information networking infrastructure and services in the Minnesota region. It shall accomplish this through a cooperative effort of corporations, educational institutions, and research organizations to advance the quality and productivity of research, development, economic and academic life. This organization shall take upon itself as its primary tasks to: 1. promote, facilitate, and support connectivity and associated services, 2. disseminate information on computer networking and associated technologies, 3. pursue connections to other networks, 4. provide a forum for the exploration of computer networking issues, 5. contribute to state, national, and international planning in the areas of computer networks.”

At the time I was elected Chairman to oversee MRNet’s conversion from a loose association w/by-laws to a real 501C3 corporation, we were over 38 members and had T-1 speed service. At that time we also decided to hire a support person to handle day-to-day operations (I was directing the University of Minnesota Networking department at the time) and were fortunate to find Mr. Fazio, who later took over as Chairman when I left to start what later became UUNet France.

MRNet served as the principal Internet backbone in Minnesota for many years, outperforming commercial entrants such as UUNet and PSINet. I personally benefited greatly from the experience, further developing my organizational skills, and learning quite a bit from the lawyers when we converted to a 501C3. It also gave me the opportunity to continue my acquaintances, started years before at the first Interoperability Conference in Monterey, with people like Ed Krol, Vint Cerf, and Bill Schrader.

An MRNet Brief from 1991:

During the organizational meeting, I said I would “nail a piece of yellow coax to the wall, and everybody could hook up”. The idea was that each member would provide their own router at the hub, because I had no budget to support it, and because Internet connection was usually a “skunk” project at members organizations as well. I got MSC to provide a room with UPS power, and Sun kindly contributed an older Sun-2 server that we used for various DNS and routing services. Here is a picture of the MRNet room a few months after establishment.