5 May 2020

Looking back 25 years of Internet history

This year DE-CIX celebrates a quarter of a century of Internet history. 1995 heralded the birth of DE-CIX in an old post office in the Gutleut quarter of Frankfurt with the aim to promote global digital interconnection and establish efficient and cost-neutral data exchange via Internet Exchanges. In the beginning, just three ISPs were connected – today, Frankfurt is the leading Internet exchange in the world.

On our jubilee website, withoutyou.de-cix.net, we celebrate the last 25 years of Internet and interconnection history. In a video interview, DE-CIX CEO Harald A. Summa looks back on the 25 years since the founding of DE-CIX. 

Watch the video here or read the transcript below.

Harald, what was your professional life like in 1995?

1995 was a very exciting time, and I was CEO of a consulting firm that helped the German software industry to develop to a new era. And one of my clients was the very first Internet service provider in Germany, EUNet. And by this, I was right in the middle of a new decade and a new era.

What was your first contact with the Internet?

When I first met the guys from EUNet, they asked me, can you help me to set up a company? I said, No problem. I do it every day. What are you selling? Internet. Internet? Okay. What's that? And at that time, you have to understand that Internet was just an academic network where you could use email, Gopher, and some other text-oriented protocols, so not fancy stuff.

Why was DE-CIX founded?

You have to understand that at the time, in 1995, we had two handfuls of ISPs in Germany that were exchanging data with each other. And this happened via a special leased line towards the US and an email from one ISP to the other went to Washington and came maybe on the same line back to be delivered at the other provider next door. And this was, of course, very expensive. At that time a two-megabit line, I think, was about four or five hundred thousand Deutschmark, was pretty expensive – a privilege to have such a line, but costs were too high. And, therefore, the providers came back to the idea that is implicit to the Internet: to keep traffic local.

What were your first steps at DE-CIX?

So in 1995, three of the bigger ISPs said, let's create DE-CIX. And the rest of the bunch said, if you three decide to do it, that might be a little bit difficult in the future. So, look, there is the electronic commerce forum, which was the association that is called eco as of today. And it said, look, there is Mr. Summa. He can manage it and he will bring us where we want to go. And so they came to me and I said, yes, I will do the job.

What was your favorite Internet milestone?

The Internet and its development, I think, in the early days was positively influenced by single persons. And at that time, there was a guy called Jon Postel. He was the guy that held in his little diary all the IP addresses of the world. If you had a good relation to him, you could get a piece of the world from him. That was really strange: in the beginning, not so strange, but looking from today back into these times, it was really amazing.

There was a website called What's New. And everybody that created a new website - sometimes just one page or two ­– sent this link to What's New. And for one week we ran every morning to the workstation and went to the website What's New – it was amazing. And I think after two weeks, they shut it down because these websites came up like – unbelievable - hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands within a very short time. But this was for me the point where I said, hey, that's it. This will change the world.

And the second thing was when I first heard the Rolling Stones via the worldwide web. At that point, I said: Yeah, that's it. And since then, I'm doing nothing else but Internet.