Grass-Roots Collaboration: Enterprise Data Center Operators Group

By: Darin Pettis, Nalini Elkins

Date: March 19, 2017

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The Enterprise Data Center Operators (EDCO) group was formed to monitor the impact of protocol changes on large, sophisticated data centers. The group represents a grass-roots effort organized and led completely by volunteers. Although we will meet in conjunction with IETF meetings, the group is not an official part of the IETF.

Enterprises and large organizations use IETF protocols both on the Internet and inside data centers. A small change to a crucial protocol can mean a significant shift in the operations and diagnostics for an organization that, in turn, may result in higher costs or even preclude how a crucial function, such as fraud monitoring, is completed.

For example, the change in TLS1.3 to eliminate the static RSA key exchange, while justified for enhanced security and privacy, also leads to major changes in critical functions, including diagnostics, fraud monitoring, and leak detection for banks, payment processors, retail organizations, health care, and other large organizations that comprise both early adopters of encryption and regulated industries.

Changes to fraud monitoring can be costly and time consuming, but if not acted upon can lead to compromised security, as applications designed for consumer protection may not work properly. EDCO is in the process of working with both TLS group members and implementers to engineer the best solution to these conflicting priorities.

We learned from the experience with TLS1.3 that enterprises are frequently not aware of the protocol changes that impact them until quite late in the process. So, now, we aim to be involved as early as possible in the work of as many Working Groups (WGs) as possible, so that we can provide timely feedback and help them craft effective solutions.

To that end, individual EDCO members plan to review the IETF WG drafts under discussion for changes that could impact large data centers. The IETF has more than 100 Working Groups—it would be impossible for any organization to monitor that many by itself, and if each enterprise sought to do the work, it would need to dedicate up to 40 or 50 people. Our solution is to work together.

Activities at IETF 98

The first meeting of EDCO will be at IETF 98 in Chicago. We intend to have a Boot Camp on Saturday for our members (the Boot Camp is organized completely by volunteers and is not an official part of the IETF). We will provide members an overview of the IETF, discuss IETF terminology, the mentoring programme, the IETF application, as well as several drafts underway by EDCO members. We have designed the Boot Camp to be a space where people can come together as a cohesive group and learn about the IETF from our unique perspective.

To promote networking and integration with IETF members, our members are invited to attend the Sunday newcomers’ sessions, if appropriate, as well as the educational sessions organized by the IETF EDU team and social events. We are coordinating with mentors from the IETF, as well as participating in the IETF Speed Mentoring programme so our members can meet as many experienced IETFers as possible.

We will provide EDCO members with a schedule of WG sessions that they are invited to attend, as well as overviews of the WGs, drafts, and terminology for selected WGs. At the last coffee break of each day, we will offer a daily check-in. We believe that conversations among ourselves about how protocol changes will affect us and conversations with IETFers about activities going on in other parts of the world will prove valuable for the EDCO. Some call this the “hallway track”. In our experience, nothing can replace it. We want as many EDCO members as possible to physically attend IETF meetings.

Next Steps

In the future, as the membership of EDCO grows, we may form a trade organization. Ideally, we will work with experts to monitor the Working Groups and upcoming drafts and to provide an assessment of their impacts. In that scenario, members of EDCO will pay for a subscription to those reviews and to webcasts. We may also provide lab facilities so members can get hands-on experience with new protocols. All of this will take money. We want our group to grow organically. If, as our membership grows, members feel that expert reviews and labs are valuable, then we will take that direction. Alternatively, we could also stay a volunteer organization.

Benefits to the IETF

Having sophisticated users of the protocols from large enterprises is a benefit to the IETF. Enterprises are not the only users of the Internet protocols, but they are important ones. The business and government sector organizations, who are  members of EDCO, keep the governments and economies of the world running—and Internet protocols are critical to their functioning. Timely feedback from such users will only make IETF standards stronger.

Some cite investments as high as $1 million per standard created. It may be impossible to calculate the real costs of creating an RFC, but one thing is certain: requirements from the people who will use the protocols in their business functions are priceless.

For more information about EDCO, please contact Nalini Elkins at [email protected] or Darin Pettis at [email protected]