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Paul Baran

Definition - What does Paul Baran mean?

Paul Baran was an engineer known for being one of the pioneers in the development of the modern computer network. He is best known for inventing packet-switched computer networking. He envisioned the concept of distributed networks as a fully redundant and independent system that could still function even when parts of it have been shut down or disconnected. Because of this, he is considered one of the founding fathers of the internet.

Techopedia explains Paul Baran

Paul Baran was born in Grodno, Poland (now part of Belarus) in 1926 and moved to the United States with his family in 1928. He attended the Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University) and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1949. He then joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and was tasked with working on the UNIVAC. He later joined the Hughes Aircraft Company in Los Angeles, working on radar data processing systems. He went back to school obtained his master's degree in engineering from UCLA in 1959.

After obtaining his master's degree, he joined the RAND Corporation and was given the task of creating a communication system that could withstand a nuclear attack, able to maintain communications between endpoints or nodes even in the event that some of its parts are damaged or totally shut down. Baran started to experiment with a simulation suite to test how an array of nodes with varying degrees of linking would work (having n number of links in each node). They then randomly killed off nodes and then tested the percentage of remaining linkage. They found that networks with n being three or more were more likely to survive even if they lost 50 percent of their nodes. Baran realized from the simulation that redundancy was the key to a resilient network. This work was published in 1960 as a Rand report, and in 1964, Rand published a series of reports "On Distributed Communications."

Even though Baran thought of packet networking first, it was Donald Davies' independent work on the exact same thing that caught the attention of the developers of the ARPANET. Leonard Kleinrock also arrived at similar ideas in 1961.

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