When Don Sheppard worked at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s (CIBC) telecommunications department between 1978 and 1985, IBM Corp.’s Systems Network Architecture (SNA) was at the forefront of connectivity standards.
At the time, CIBC and the other major Canadian banks were setting up automated teller machines connected to back-end databases through telecom networks, and installing the second generation of terminals for internal bank workers.
“A huge surprise right now is IBM Systems Network Architecture disappeared so quickly,” said Sheppard, winner of ComputerWorld Canada’s Blogging Idol contest. “The Internet took over and pushed a lot of the original networking services into the background.”
Sheppard was a prolific writer on IT World Canada’s blogging idol site. Along with Michel Labelle, Chris Lau and other contestants, Sheppard opined on several hot topics in IT, including cloud computing, professional certifications and wireless , generating the most overall traffic.
It was a different world 25 years ago at CIBC, when the concept of withdrawing money after hours from a machine was foreign to many consumers and the IT systems used in financial services were less sophisticated.
“The early 80s was when word processing and e-mail was just coming along,” he said. “We were putting in Wang word processors and things like that, which was beginning the whole revolution of e-mail. There was no such thing as e-mail from a bank representative to a customer at the time. It brought in a whole set of security questions, and I left before most of that got solved.”
Sheppard has operated ConCon IT Consulting Inc. for 12 years and has a long history with networking and telecommunications technologies. After graduating with a Masters of Applied Science at the University of Toronto in 1972 and a Diploma in Management from Montreal-based McGill University (after earning an undergraduate electrical engineering degree from McGill in 1969), he joined the telecommunications department of CN Rail.
“Back when I started my career, the whole idea that we’d be walking around with wireless phones and we’d be fighting over BlackBerries versus iPhones, certainly wasn’t on my radar screen 30 years ago,” Sheppard said.
What was on his radar screen in 1978 was the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) reference model, eventually adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and which led to concepts like switching and routing at Layers 1 through 7.
“Everyone still talks about the seven-layer model and can quote the word application layer and stuff,” he said. “It’s typically a high level view but there’s a lot of networking complexity that’s still a mystery to most people. And life is not getting easier with the addition of new technologies, wireless and the kinds of applications that we talked about in Blogging Idol.”
In 1978, the Standards Council of Canada appointed Sheppard as chairman of the committee representing Canada for developing the OSI model at ISO, a position he held until 1992. At the time, his full-time job was with GeoTrain (now known as Global Knowledge), a training and consulting firm.
“That was in the early 90s, when even the World Wide Web was brand new,” he said. “I think things are a lot different now. Universities actually have programs to teach things like Cisco routers. That’s a long way from when routers and routing and the Internet first came a long.” He said some of the new Web 2.0 technologies, including social networking, aren’t always taught in school.
“It’s coming from the little entrepreneurs and the guys that started up the new businesses,” he said. “There certainly is a thrust at the architecture level to move to some Web 2.0 service oriented architecture — things like internal blogs (and) use of Second Life. I think that’s a very gradual development. People are afraid of that kind of thing. They don’t know how to control it in terms of misuse within business.”
Sheppard said his participation in Blogging Idol raised gave him some insight into social networking and into some of the issues presented by cloud computing.
“I will be careful to watch who are becoming the gorillas in the cloud computing industry,” he said. “Whether Google becomes the king of that castle – certainly something that is worth watching.”
A technology that lets users store data at locations outside their country raises lots of questions, Sheppard added.
“I remember from 70s the whole issue about transborder data flow – having your data stored outside the country – and I believe that will come back again,” he said. “It’s the concept of, do you know where your data is and do you know it’s going to be secure, if it’s not stored within your own systems?”