By co-founding the first statewide Internet-based network and co-founding one of the first two commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs), William “Bill” Schrader paved the way for widespread Internet use in America.
Schrader got his start in computing as the co-founder of the Cornell Theory Center, at his alma mater, Cornell University. The first non-classified supercomputing system in the United States, the Cornell Theory Center was proposed as one of five National Science Foundation (NSF) supercomputing centers that would allow academic researchers to connect with each other more quickly and easily across the largest non-commercial network at that time. To build the nationwide network, in 1986, Schrader led the effort to procure funding for and to implement the interim NSFNET backbone, the infrastructure necessary for the system.
While undertaking this work, Schrader saw the opportunity to use the NSFNET to connect computers throughout New York State. Schrader sought to build a network that would link New York’s academic, business and government labs via high-speed data communications. The result was NYSERNet, a first-of-its-kind project connecting computer centers, libraries, and health institutions with each other and with the NSFNET and the ARPANET. Other regional NSFNET networks soon followed the model Schrader had created.
Such a broad network required new technology tools to function. Under Schrader’s leadership, NYSERNet employees created the simple network management protocol (SNMP) to monitor and manage network devices. The tool is still used to monitor network performance.
While leading NYSERNet, Schrader co-founded the Northeast Parallel Architectures Center (NPAC), a DARPA-funded organization based at Syracuse University. NPAC researched and then operated a network of massively parallel supercomputers combining their problem-solving power to support university, corporate, and government researchers. Schrader guided NPAC to a computing contract with DARPA to buy, install, and test internetworked computers at military bases, the first agreement of its kind and another model set by Schrader that others would soon follow.
This quick succession of successful networking projects gave Schrader deep insights into how to build large technology organizations from the ground up. It also provided him with a unique perspective on the future of the Internet. In 1989, Schrader founded a commercial Internet service provider, PSINet. PSINet quickly grew to be the first global commercial ISP, altering the notion of the Internet as a research and military tool into that of a system for any person or business who had access to a computer. Because PSINet’s ambitions would require that the Internet have faster connections, Schrader advocated for and helped convince telephone companies to change from the older circuit-switching technology to TCP/IP connections, a change that increased the speed of Internet connection worldwide.
At its peak, PSINet operated with 10,000 employees in 30 countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America, managing a global network of fiber optic connections. While most of the customer base was commercial, PSINet continued to work for the government, including providing connectivity to the United States military during the first phase of the Gulf War in 1990.
With entrepreneurial zeal, negotiation prowess, and technology know-how, Schrader has been instrumental in growing small regional research networks into a system that connects humans and commerce all over the world.