A Newcomer’s Experience at IETF 92

By: Aaron Gember-Jacobson

Date: July 6, 2015

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IETF 92 was a unique experience for me, particularly compared to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and USENIX conferences I regularly attend. As an organization, the IETF is focused on concrete solutions and detailed specifications for working systems, as opposed to conceptual research. This practical focus appealed to my interest in systems-building research and is one of the reasons I chose to attend IETF 92.

By attending the working and research group sessions that are closely related to my research, including the SFC, NFVRG, and SDNRG groups, I gained a better understanding of what problems are currently in need of solutions, what problems will need to be solved in the near future, and what constraints shape the space of possible solutions. For example, the SFC session had a presentation on dealing with legacy network functions, a problem I have attempted to address in some of my own research. The presentation itself affirmed for me the relevancy of this problem and discussions during the session helped me realize that the solution I’d originally proposed—repurposing a field in the Ethernet or IP header to serve as a tag—is not well suited for an actual deployment. I now think it’s worth exploring how program analysis techniques can help organizations easily retrofit legacy functions with support for new SFC standards.

The NFVRG session included several presentations on open-source virtual network function management and orchestration (MANO) frameworks. These specific MANO frameworks address some of the practical issues I have encountered in my research, including the high-speed forwarding of packets to network-function virtual machines. As a result, I look forward to using them to conduct more-realistic evaluations of some of my solutions and systems.

A favorite session was the plenary presentation on security in the Internet-of-Things. This topic has received little attention at the networking conferences I usually attend, so I was especially pleased with the great introduction I gained to this emerging area.

In summary, attending IETF 92 gave me new research problems to think about, and helped me identify better ways to evaluate my research. What’s more, it’s improved my teaching: I am now better equipped to teach students about Internet standards and the Internet-of-Things. I’ll be back.