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Lost in a Labyrinth of Workstations

Joann J. Ordille

Barton P. Miller

Computer Sciences Department
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1210 W. Dayton Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
(608) 262-1204

Millions of users will be lost in tomorrow's labyrinth of workstations. In fact, today's users are already lost. An internetwork of workstations makes myriad applications, services, and computing environments available to its users. Users, however, can access only resources that they can find, and finding a resource is a difficult, if not impossible, task.

To find a resource, you must name it. Today's naming labyrinth is comprised of islands of uniform naming in a maze of heterogeneity. First, it has a proliferation of name spaces, and no single way to name the variety of resources available to users. Is the resource available through the Domain Name System [10], X.500 [4], the CSNET Name Service [8], the Resource Location Protocol [1], Archie [13], Netfind [15], Profile [12], the Wide Area Information Servers [7], Univers [2], the Knowbot Information Service [5], the Network Library System [17], a company personnel database, or some other place? Second, the largest name services, like the Domain Name Service and X.500, hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

This work was supported in part by an AT&T Ph.D. Scholarship, National Science Foundation grants CCR-8815928 and CCR-9100968, Office of Naval Research grant N00014-89-J-1222, and a Digital Equipment Corporation External Research Grant.

are hierarchical services. Since most of us have trouble finding files in our own directory trees, it is no surprise that users cannot find things in other users' naming trees, trees that they did not create. Heterogeneity and confusion result from both the proliferation of services (and service interfaces), and the nonuniform tree structure in hierarchical services.

To the extent that users can deal with heterogeneity, they now roam here and there looking for what they need. The sheer size of the name space daunts all but a brave few. Both the number of workstations and the information organized by those workstations is growing at an alarming rate. In the last ten years, we have seen exponential growth in the number of hosts on the Internet [9]. This growth is accompanied by an exponential decline in the cost of disk space, and a corresponding increase in the amount of information available through hosts on the network [6]. Systems are proposed, like Melampus [3] and the Information Mesh [16], that would integrate most of the information available on our workstations into one world-wide database. How are we as users to survive this information glut? How are we to avoid being forever lost in a labyrinth of global proportions?

Only we, as designers of workstations and networks, can remove this labyrinth for

-- 1 -- WWOS III, 1992