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Jonathan Postel Is Dead at 55; Helped Start and Run Internet

The following release is from theNew York Times


Jonathan B. Postel, who played a pivotal role in creating and administering the Internet, died of complications after undergoing heart surgery on Friday in St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, his brother Thomas Postel said Saturday. He was 55 and lived in Los Angeles.

Postel, a computer scientist at the Information Sciences Institute, a branch of the University of Southern California in Marina del Rey, Calif., was a creator of the Internet's address system. For 30 years, he handled the administrative end of Internet addresses under the auspices of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, or IANA, a federally financed entity.

"Jon's greatest achievement was operating IANA," said Stephen Crocker, a colleague of Postel's. "It is a very central piece of the infrastructure. As mundane and as simple as it seemed, he set policies that made it very easy for the network to grow. He minimized bureaucratic delay and at the same time kept silly and nonsensical things to a minimum."

Postel began his work on computer networking in the late 1960s, while a graduate student at the University of California at Los Angeles. He was one of a small group of computer scientists who created the Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet. At UCLA in 1969, Postel assisted in the installation of the Arpanet's first communications switch, which routes network traffic.

For nearly 30 years, Postel also served as editor of the Request for Comments series, or RFCs, technical notes that began with the earliest days of the Arpanet and continued into the Internet. Though intended to be informal, RFCs often laid the foundation for technical standards governing the Internet's operation. Nearly 2,500 RFCs have been produced.

As part of the effort to hand administration of the Internet over to an international private corporation, this month Postel delivered to the government a proposal to transform the IANA into a nonprofit corporation, with broad representation from the commercial and academic sectors.

The proposed organization has been incorporated and has an interim board of directors. Pending final approval from the Department of Commerce, the new entity is prepared to take up its responsibility, said Vinton Cerf, chairman of the Internet Society, a professional membership society to which Postel also belonged.

Postel was known for his steadiness, as well as for the influence he wielded with colleagues at meetings of professional organizations. During heated technical debates, once Postel weighed in, the matter was soon resolved.

As testament to Postel's control over the highest levels of the Internet, in conducting a test of the Internet's reliability this year, he rerouted the Internet's directory service to alternate locations. Although there was no disruption of the Internet's operation, the incident attracted widespread attention. Postel said he was conducting an experiment to demonstrate the network's backup capability.

Explaining the action, Crocker said, "I think he was exercising his legitimate responsibility to make sure the network worked as advertised."

In 1966, Postel graduated from UCLA, where he also obtained a master's degree in engineering in 1968 and a doctorate in computer science in 1974.

In addition to the Internet Society, where he served as a trustee, Postel was a member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In addition to his brother Thomas, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., Postel is survived by his his companion, Susan Gould, also of Los Angeles; mother, Lois Postel, of Sherman Oaks; another brother, Russell Postel, of Sebastopol, Calif.; and a sister, Margie Bradshaw, of Paisley, Scotland.

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