The Untold Story of SAIC, Network Solutions, and the Rise of the Web—Part 1

Even when the Internet boom was happening—even during the incandescent gold rush years of the late 1990s—Network Solutions was not exactly a household corporate name. Not compared to the first wave of companies like America Online or Netscape Communications, whose Aug. 9, 1995, IPO seems to be the demarcation line between everything that existed before the Internet and everything that came after.

Even to those who had heard of Network Solutions, the little company in Herndon, VA, that held exclusive rights to register Internet domain names was something of a mystery. Just how did that government-issued monopoly come about, anyway? And then there was SAIC, the San Diego-based government contractor that had acquired Network Solutions in March 1995. SAIC was an even bigger enigma, because so much of its work involved specialized and classified research and engineering services for the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies. Even on projects that don’t involve secret DoD programs, SAIC doesn’t go out of its way to attract attention.

So it’s not widely known, for example, that SAIC acquired Network Solutions for only $4.7 million, and operated the company during a five-year period of near-exponential growth. Network Solutions was managing only about 60,000 Internet domain names when SAIC took over, but during those crucial early years the company built out the infrastructure needed to manage millions of domain names. At the same time, SAIC sold off pieces of its stake in the Virginia company—eventually realizing billions of dollars in increased valuation.

I got a rare opportunity to gain new insight on this story from two key insiders: SAIC founder (and Xconomist) J. Robert Beyster, who was SAIC’s chairman and CEO during the Network Solutions years, and Mike Daniels, the SAIC executive who led the acquisition and served as chairman of Network Solution’s board during the years SAIC controlled the company. We’re publishing my exclusive Q&A with them tomorrow [now online here–Eds.].

They tell me they became friends in 1986, after SAIC acquired Daniels’ company, Computer Systems Management. It was a small government contractor in Northern Virginia that had worked on sensitive IT projects for the Reagan Administration, such as an upgrade in the National Security Council’s crisis management decision-making system.

Daniels says he had a front-row seat on the Internet from … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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12 responses to “The Untold Story of SAIC, Network Solutions, and the Rise of the Web—Part 1”

  1. fakename says:

    Stopped reading after the first page. This isn’t a fucking book, stop dividing up your site into pages.

  2. Agreed says:

    What’s with multiple pages? All it did was encourage me to adblock everything on the site. I would have been fine with them if the article was just one page.

  3. anonymouse says:

    This multiple page crap is absurd.
    Get real.

  4. Brendan says:

    And for some reason all the paragraphs are centered on my blackberry. Yuck

  5. tomsherm says:

    Well, if the goal was to discourage me from reading what should be a good article – they did it! Ironic that a story about the birth of key internet partners is posted on a site that has no business being ON the internet – ugh – why ruin a story with “just TRY and read it” formatting?

  6. anonymous says:

    Bruce has a love affair with the word “even”.

  7. Paul says:

    Pages, no problem with autopager.

  8. fakename2 says:

    So glad to see people talking about hating multiple pages. It’s such poor design. I never click page 2 out of principle.