Greetings from the founder

Jun Murai, Ph.D.
Jun Murai, Ph.D. Founder

WIDE Project 2016

In 1985, the JUNET research group, working across connections between Japanese university networks via UUCP over dial-up, was discussing the building of a network that would use dedicated lines and be “always-on”. The research lab at Tokyo Institute of Technology, where I was working at the time, was already running a network for email and electronic news technology, and we had two missions to fulfill.

One was to set up a network in Japan that was always-on, rather than intermittently connected as networks had been up to that point. The other was to establish global connections between the always-on network and networks overseas to form a global-scale network. We faced two issues in our discussions about building this network. One had to do with protocol standardization. For the always-on connection, we had to decide whether to use TCP/IP, the communications protocol used by 4.2BSD, or whether to continue pursuing the challenge of a new communications protocol. The other had to do with the Japanese-based email standards we had developed at JUNET. We had to consider how to develop the multilingual environment encompassing Japanese-language computing that we had back then into a global standard.

The biggest problem facing the new research group then cutting its teeth under the WIDE Project moniker was the huge cost involved in using dedicated 9K lines or dedicated 64K lines for an always-on network, in comparison with JUNET, which transmitted digital data over dial-up phone-line connections. Adding the cost of international communications on top of that made it seem like a very unrealistic dream. Thanks to the cooperation and assistance of its initial sponsors who “split the bill”, WIDE Project thus was able to get its activities off the ground.

Then came the task of deciding on a name for the research group. Every researcher in the group was a UNIX geek, and every member of the group was fervently rebellious against established norms. This was the backdrop against which research group naming discussions unfolded. We loved BSD UNIX with a passion. BSD UNIX was a version of UNIX—at the time considered to be subject to copyrights of a telephone company—that had been developed at the university level by the University of California, Berkeley, and distributed to the world with a TCP/IP implementation included. The symbol of those copyrights was AT&T’s System V, in defiance of which the university created 4.2BSD as an alternative. System V was a symbol of copyrights, while 4.2BSD represented freedom. At first we decided to call the research group vinous, a name suggested by Hiroshi Tachibana (designer of the Tachibana font).

This had the somewhat extreme meaning of “V is not our system”, and we subsequently decided it best to avoid a name that would suggest we were attacking an “enemy”. This led to us discussing names for the research group starting with “W” as a representation of a doubling of the “V” in System V, thus reflecting a vision of something vastly better than V. Out of a desire to create an OS for wide-area distributed systems, we settled on the name “WIDE (Widely Integrated Distributed Environment)” for the research group, with the “W” also symbolizing a desire to shun the authoritarianism of System V.

Once the name was decided, attention turned to designing the research group’s logo. Ken Matsubara, who we asked to design the WIDE logo, was a Bloomingdale’s designer and one of the top industrial designers active in America. The design brief was to create a logo with Japanese origins and global sensibilities that expressed intelligence, and thus was created the WIDE logo that is still in use today. It also represents the origins of the Internet Initiative Japan (IIJ) logo that Matsubara was later asked to design.

Turning to the present, fiscal 2016 began for us with the challenge of the G7 Summit. My mission was to coordinate the ICT Ministers’ Meeting held at the end of April, ahead of the G7. The G7 is a government level meeting, whereas the ICT meeting was a forum for multistakeholder discussion. A number of rules based on US contracts involved in the operation of the internet were due to expire in 2016, and we invited ISOC President CEO Kathy Brown for the purposes of this discussion. Also, while increases in the number of internet users had been driven by the US and Japan up until 2000, the subsequent rise of emerging economies, such as China and India, has prompted calls for a balance that is more aligned with population ratios. As the balance of internet governance among nations undergoes large changes, this signals a turning point in the role of the fraternity of advanced internet nations that has taken responsibility for the internet thus far.

A third point to note is that changes are taking place with respect to nonprofit research and education networks, which in a sense represent WIDE Project’s origins. The success and spread of the internet has resulted in a shift in developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, toward a situation in which people are able to connect to the internet without the support of universities or research institutions, owing to the existence of commercial networks not eligible for government support. My agenda with respect to the G7+1 was to request that developed economies provide support for NRENs in all developing countries.

Having begun this way, 2016 also saw a great surge in the IoT, something that WIDE has until now been driving forward, and having thus played a spearheading role, WIDE naturally faces a big responsibility here. As a result, WIDE has taken on a role that encompasses steering the IoT Acceleration Consortium jointly backed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, including through the establishment of fundamental legislation, and promoting research & development and government policy on themes including open data, big data, and AI.

Cybersecurity issues also garnered significant attention after the leak of personal information from Japan’s pension system. Alongside fresh expectations for the internet fueled by the IoT, big data, and so forth, interest in cybersecurity has also ramped up. WIDE Project also has a history on the forefront of cybersecurity efforts thanks to the leadership of the late Suguru Yamaguchi. Many of WIDE Project’s activities fulfill a role in academic-industry-government collaborations related to cybersecurity, one example being that of WIDE Project member Youki Kadobayashi—one of Yamaguchi’s many former pupils carrying on his legacy at NAIST—taking on a central role in the Cyber Resilience Structural Research Lab.

In the summer of 2016, Pokémon GO, developed by a team that included graduates who had also served at WIDE Project, took the world by storm, and the Rio Olympics and Paralympics provided an impetus for the formation of the Japanese team responsible for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, with specific frameworks being created and so forth. Society at large is thus beginning to take up future-oriented challenges framed by digital technology and the internet. Considering that the internet is the foundation of the global cyberspace that connects the world, and in light of the presidential baton change in the US, which had been the leader in this area, as well as the changes across European nations, not least the UK, WIDE Project also has a great responsibility to fulfill with respect to advances made in a global context.

Through 30 years of such advances, WIDE Project has become a specialized group in the internet community composed of members whose ages currently span four decades. The reason WIDE Project has been able to continue pursuing its research activities lies in the support of its sponsors and the passion and drive of its members. As founder, I would like to express my sincere gratitude and offer a pledge to redouble our efforts as we face the enormous mission ahead of us.

Jun Murai
March 2017