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Q&A with Jaap Akkerhuis

January 19, 2019

Jaap Akkerhuis, a Dutch research engineer, was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame for his leadership in the development of the Internet in the Netherlands and Europe.

Throughout his career, Akkerhuis has worked with a number of scientific institutions, research labs, Internet service providers, and registries in Europe and across the U.S., playing a key role as a global connector in the technical community.

In the late 1980’s, he worked at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Information Technology Center, sponsored by IBM, and eventually worked in the U.S. with software company mtXinu and AT&T Bell Labs.

Upon his return to the Netherlands, he joined the NLnet Labs, the first independent ISP in the Netherlands. Later he worked as a technical advisor for Stichting Internet Domeinregistratie Nederland, the registry of the .NL country code top-level domain.

Over the years, Akkerhuis has also played key roles in organizations such as the European Unix User Group, Advanced Computing Systems Association (USENIX), the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Society, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Réseaux IP Européens (RIPE), and The Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries.

Currently, he is a research engineer in the research and development group at NLnet Labs, focusing on IT development.

We talked with Akkerhuis about what led him into this field and key projects that marked his career.

How did you get involved in the Internet?

In the early 8o's there was no Internet. There was the mythical ARPANET on the other side of the ocean, so I was curious about how to get involved with the Internet from here.

Are there any interesting stories or early projects to share about how you got involved in developing networks?

Well, that is a long story. The short version is that there wasn’t anything special other than a need to couple two computers (a PDP 11/45 and a VAX 780) together. There was no budget for it so we used the easiest, most simplistic, and cheapest way to do so. When that worked, we decided to try to connect to colleagues in Europe. The main entertainer of that idea was Teus Hagen, a fellow Internet Hall of Fame Inductee.

You were a key part of getting networks set up in Europe. Is there a particular project that you are most proud of? One that was particularly challenging, amusing, or an important one that goes unrecognized?

Coming up with ideas to get around various regulations was always interesting and challenging. One of the variables was that you couldn’t have your own equipment connected to the telephone network. Since at that time, modems could only operate manually, it resulted in us designing and later shipping dialers all over Europe, probably breaking some laws in the process.

I remember that the Swiss State Telephone Company asked to be connected but also asked us not to tell them how we did it, because it was likely against their own regulations.

What is your focus today and are there any areas you remain most interested in, or one problem you would like to solve before you retire?

I'm trying to retire now but what keeps me occupied is the security of
the Domain Naming Systems (DNS) - in a more general sense, focusing on how to keep the public core of the Internet open and generally available.