Network Management

Interview with Mike St.Johnes, Director Network Implementation Strategies, Nominet

By: Henri Wohlfarth


Date: May 7, 2006

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Question: John, you attended the first IETF Meeting. How did you get involved in the IETF?
Mike: In 1986 my boss was Mike Corrigan, who was the first chair of the IETF. I was working on the Defense Data Network Program along with Phill Gross. I was responsible for managing the development of the packet switches, the gateways and the terminal servers for the DDN (Defense Data Network). So, I saw this note about GADS (Gateway Algorithms and Data Structures) meeting in San Diego and decided to go.

The meeting had been going on for half a day and we look up and Mike Corrigan wanders in. Mike had just come from the Internet Architecture Board Meeting where they decided to turn it into something different: the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). So, Dave Mills, the chair of GADS, ended up as the chairman of Internet Architecture Task Force and Mike Corrigan would take over the Internet Engineering Task Force.

The original mission of the IETF was engineering. It was to look at what we were calling the Internet which consisted of the following networks:

– Milnet (the military version of the ARPANET),
– ARPANET,
– the core gateway system,
– Nasa Science Internet (NSI),
– National Science Foundation (NSF) net

So, the original IETF was really a place for NASA, the Department of Energy, DOD and the NSF to talk with each other about how to build networks.

With Mike Corrigan as the chair of the IETF, I ended up being one of the program chairs for the first one or two meetings together with Phill Gross until Mike departed and Phill took over as IETF chair.

Question: What other functions did you have on the IETF?

Mike: I was on the IAB twice. I was on the first IAB after the Kobe meeting. And I was on the IAB two years ago.

And I was a WG chair for 4 or 5 WGs. I have been a NomCom chair once. I was actually on the NomCom that filled 17 slots which was difficult to do. That was also the NomCom that was charged to rationalise when people’s terms ended. And we ended up having to find an Area Director (AD) for Operations & Management three times for various reasons.

Question: looking back, what do you see as fundamentally different now?

Mike: The IETF is a a standards body. Parts of the problem I am seeing today is that process gets in the way of technology. I am not really sure how to fix that except by screening at the entry point and then killing groups that don’t do the work. But it is hard to do.

Question: You said the was initially not set up or designed as a standards organisations?

Mike: No. The IETF up until meeting 8 or 9, was plenary only. There were technical presentations about what was going on on the Internet. There were no workings groups. We organised the WG structure between Austin and Hawaii. By Hawaii Phill had created the area structure that is in place today. He appointed a steering group, being responsible for various parts of the system. At the Boulder meeting we were having some interesting discussions with Jon Postel about the ability to create our own documents. We really wanted to be able to create documents and Jon wanted the RFC system to continue as it was (as the documents describing the standards). The IETF had created a document series called IDEAS (Internet Design Engineering Analysis Series. We published about 11 of them before Phill went off and had a long chat with Jon. The result was the beginning of the Internet-Drafts system.

Question: What do you think will be the next big development on the Internet?

Mike: one of the things about the Internet is that it was designed to be used by experts. We have gone from a benign environment where we knew everyone who is on the Internet to an environment where we have cyber-stalkers and cyber-terrorists. It is a different world. The web has changed things. I think for the good, because lots of people can get their voice out, but part of it is that we are diluting the truth. For instance, you used to be able to pick up the newspaper and say ‘Oh, I believe that’, because you trusted the newspaper etc. But there is so much stuff on the Internet, that gets picked up.

Do you know what is meant by meme (A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another; dictionary.reference.com). It is a memory element. It is an idea. It is an idea that can spread from person to person. Urban legends are one example of it. Polls are another example of it. Belief systems, religions. The Internet is the best system for spreading memes that we have ever seen.

Before it would be newspaper and books and fiction etc. Now we have an idea popping up in Idaho and showing up in Berlin the next day. So, we need a way of inoculating ourselves against memes, against non-benign memes. So, it may be that the next thing for the Internet isn’t so much the protocols and standards, but the theory of information
transfer.

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