While attending some classes at Stanford in 1977 I explored their computer science department in Margaret Jacks Hall, and visited the wonderful semi-circular building of the Stanford AI lab (SAIL) west of campus many times. I met a number of people such as Len Bosak, who later founded Cisco, etc. On later visits to the campus I became interested in their effort to build a sort of follow-on to the PARC Alto workstation, but based on the new 68000 processor, and using other technologies developed at Stanford, PARC, and SRI such as the mouse, bit-mapped displays, and Ethernet. Back at the UofM I proselytized what was being done at Stanford to anyone who would listen, and carried a Forward Technology SUN-1 board around explaining how it was almost as powerful as a DEC VAX 750, and why bit-map displays, small talk, etc. was the way of the future. I passed out copies of the early drafts of overview papers, which were later published as CSL reports like TR 229 shown here.
Later, I met with Sun founders at a Usenix conference in Toronto, and after we got our Cray-1, I met with Bill Joy at a European Usenix conference in Paris. I described how tightly coupling workstations to supercomputers using the Berkeley Unix TCP/IP stack that Bill was responsible for might enable interactive fluid flow visualization, etc.
Eventually I got the University to purchase one of the first Sun-1 workstations (s/n 128, probably the 28th one made), which included a mux card (which happened to be made by a company founded by a cousin of mine!) and connected dial-up modems so people could explore the Sun Unix implementation. As I recall, the Sun-1 still had bugs, and I spent time on the phone with Andy Bechtolsheim debugging early hardware, I remember he sent me a number of EPROMs to fix things. Seeing our success, the UofM CSci department, and others, purchased Suns.
When I became Director of Communications and Networking for the Minnesota Supercomputer Center Inc. we obtained an NSF grant to implement a BBN 1822 link on a DEC VMS Vax to the ARPANet IMP at the UofWisc. in Madison. We built a campus Ethernet backbone, and routed through the VAX to many types of workstations. In time we used Sun systems with NSC Hyperchannel as front-ends to our Cray-1 and Cray-2 systems, and later as routers when the Cray-2 supported TCP/IP directly.