Massachusetts Institute of Technology's distributed network system

Financial Times

April 25, 1990

The distributed network system at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known as Project Athena.

The infrastructure is an academic computing network with more than 1,100 workstations distributed around the campus. Each of the basic stations has a 32-bit processor with a capacity of 1m-3m instructions per second, 4-8 megabytes of random access memory, a 40-megabyte hard disk drive, a monochrome high-resolution screen and a mouse. Through an interface they are connected to systems software and a series of 'servers' and peripherals.

The best-known of Athena's achievements is X-windows, a set of protocols now widely used in the computing industry which allows applications to be used on a wide range of monitor screens made by different companies. But X-windows represent only 5 per cent of Athena's work, says George Champine, senior scientist at Digital and an associate director of the project.

He points to a range of distributed network software, including 'kerberos', an authentication system which identifies and encodes the user's number and password so it can be transmitted safely across the system; and 'hesiod', which allows easy access to the different peripherals available. Approximately 125 educational software packages have been developed to date, involving 175 faculty members and a number of specially-hired programming support staff.


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