By: Alissa Cooper
Looking Ahead, Facing Change
In March I officially took on the role of IETF Chair. My predecessor Jari Arkko noted upon beginning his term just how much can change from one term to the next. While settling into my new role these past months, I’ve been thinking about his comment, about both what is changing in the IETF and what is staying the same.
When I first started participating in the IETF, I soon realized its importance as a venue for creating the building blocks of the Internet. The significance of the IETF derives from a combination of what we choose to work on and how we carry out that work. Producing core standardized protocols wouldn’t have nearly the same impact on the Internet if it were done behind closed doors, if a single constituency could dictate the outcome, or if broad interoperability were not the main objective. The core principles of the IETF process—open participation, cross-area review, and consensus—contribute to the success of IETF protocols in tandem with the design choices and technical trade-offs inherent in protocol design.
Of course, those process features are also often cited as drawbacks of IETF participation. “The IETF moves too slowly,” some people say. “They’re not adaptable,” “they can’t compete with open source,” “the biggest players aren’t interested in consensus.” Sound familiar? Sure, it’s generally true that finding agreement among a large, heterogeneous pool of people requires different time and work investments than deciding things among a close group of friends or hacking something together on your own. A pressing challenge for us is to preserve the benefits of the core IETF model while adapting to changes in the industry and the environment. With collaborative styles of engagement flourishing across both open source and standards development, there is a lot of opportunity for synergy.
How can we do a better job of integrating our work with open source development efforts? How can we evolve our tools and processes to align with how software is being developed and deployed today? How might we apply the model of cross-area review and consensus more broadly than to static text specifications? How can we evolve the administration of the IETF to give the community more flexibility and room to experiment? I have my own thoughts about these questions, but far more important are the ideas and efforts of the IETF community.
Recent IETF standards development work, as well as ongoing community conversations and activities, offer many reasons to be optimistic about tackling these questions. Over the last several years we’ve seen protocol development efforts deeply intertwined with and informed by running code, with the concurrent development of 10 or more independent implementations in cases such as HTTP/2 and TLS 1.3. We’ve seen broad interest across the industry in the kind of security expertise that has become a hallmark of the IETF, and resulting security and privacy improvements being developed for Web, email, DNS, DHCP, real-time, and other kinds of traffic. We’ve seen tremendous energy behind the specification of YANG data models and their integration across the industry into standards processes. And community discussion and activity continues to grow around IETF Hackathons, use of Github, remote participation, and IASA 2.0.
I’m excited to work with the IETF community to tackle these coming changes. In addition to the existing discussion venues, please feel free to send your thoughts directly to me (email@example.com) or post them to the IETF discussion list (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Highlights from IETF 98
The 98th IETF meeting was a typically busy work week for IETF participants, but also a special week, as a number of changes in our leadership became official. We welcomed newly selected individuals into the leadership and gave our thanks to outgoing members of the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and IETF Administrative Oversight Committee (IAOC) , including the outgoing IETF chair, Jari Arkko.
Amidst all the Working Group action and leadership transition activities, a few highlights stood out for me. Among more than 1,000 attendees, nearly 17% were attending their very first IETF meeting. We’re constantly evaluating what more we can do to attract cutting-edge standardization work and new participants to the IETF, so it was nice to see many fresh faces.
Meetings at IETF 98 demonstrated that a number of core security and Web application standards are on a path towards high levels of maturity and industry adoption. These include the following:
- Transport Layer Security (TLS) version 1.3, a significant performance and security upgrade to the current version of TLS.
- The Automated Certificate Management Environment (ACME) protocol specification, which has provided the foundation for certificate management automation for the Web.
- The core Real-Time Communication in Web Browsers (RTCWEB) specifications, which together allow for standardized interactive communication using audio, video, and data connections between Web browsers.
Work on all of these standards is heading towards conclusion within their respective Working Groups. There was also a large TLS team at the IETF Hackathon representing 18 independent implementations, and they were named the overall Hackathon winners by the judges.
IETF 98 was also very busy for those working on YANG data models related to both network management and routing. While participants continue to press forward with the standardization of hundreds of different YANG modules in the IETF, they’ve also been focusing on guidelines and tooling (e.g., yangcatalog.org) to help streamline the model development process and aid interoperability.
Our technical plenary speakers, Niels ten Oever and David Clark, addressed questions about the relationship between Internet protocols and human rights. Clark encouraged us to think of standardization activities as “designing the playing field” and to contemplate how we “tilt the playing field” based on the design choices we make. As expected, the topic yielded a provocative community discussion session.
We owe deep thanks to our meeting host, Ericsson. As an IETF Global Host, Ericsson has committed to host three IETF meetings in a 10-year period and affirmed its long-standing support for the work of the IETF. We heard at the plenary session just how important IETF work is to Ericsson’s industry and technology goals, particularly as the coming shift towards 5G inspires potential new requirements around packet transport, network and service management, and virtualization.
Until we gather again in July for IETF 99, work will continue on mailing lists, at interim meetings, and on Github1. See you in all of those places…
1. See the Working Groups Using Github session at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNtCXBg_RnU&feature=youtu.be.