Impressions of Two IETF Newcomers

By: Alain Aina, Michuki Mwangi

Date: September 7, 2006

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alain aina

Alain Aina at IETF66
Photo: Michuki Mwangi

The ultimate achievement for a technical engineer is the opportunity to participate at the highest level of Internet development, perhaps even serve as a co-author of an RFC. To most Internet engineers, the IETF is a revered organisation and involvement is regarded as a career high. We felt that our participation at the IETF meeting in Montreal was both a personal achievement and a motivational experience. It gave life to a process that we had experienced only on mailing lists. Having had the opportunity to be at the meeting, we were able to appreciate the passion and the energy that are put into the IETF for the good of the Internet.

The 66th IETF meeting was held at the Palais des congrès in Montreal, Canada. The conference facility was large enough that with a total attendance of 1,257, it was difficult to comprehend a meeting of this magnitude. In Africa, most ICT-related meetings do not draw large numbers of participants, except for the WSIS, ITU, and ATU meetings. However, only at the IETF plenary meetings and the breakfast sessions could one appreciate the sheer number of participants. During the plenary, for example, the wireless network was challenged as a result of the large concentration of people in one room at one time. Nonetheless, being newcomers to the meeting, we must admit that the level of organisation was exceptional despite the numbers. It’s no wonder that the IETF budget runs into the thousands of dollars.

Due to our keen interest in the DNS and IPv6, which is a result of our involvement in the African ccTLD and Internet Registry arena, we were interested in attending the working groups on the Internet operations and routing areas. Some of the issues concerning the deployment of DNS-SEC and IPv6 for our region were of particular interest to us. We learned that the Kenyan (.ke) and the Senegalese (.sn) ccTLD Registries have formal plans to commence DNSSEC trials in the near future. We also learned that AfriNIC, the African Regional Internet Registry, is currently undergoing IPv6 training in the region, with the aim of creating the necessary awareness and expertise for deployment. However, in order to appreciate the protocols functionalities, involvement in IETF discussion groups has helped unearth and clarify the challenges faced by those involved in deployment.

By attending the IETF meetings, the reality of the issues is made even clearer through the deliberations on their impacts at the Working Group sessions. Of interest were the discussion on the AS112 draft and the DNS reflector attacks drafts that bring to the fore operational concerns as they apply to the DNS. The two drafts have proposed implementation recommendations that are, in our opinion, worth consideration. Initiating discussions within our region on these two drafts seems like a fair starting point for generating sufficient interest in the IETF activities.

Finally, we noticed a large number of participants from the Asian region and were disappointed to see that, other than the two of us, there were no African participants. Increasing participation at IETF meetings from among African nations will be challenging and possible only through increased awareness of the meetings’ activities and role. A similar issue was raised at the plenary meetings in regard to the location of future IETF meetings. There were varied opinions as to why considerations should or should not be given to hosting meetings in developing countries and regions. Ultimately, it was felt that hosting the IETF meetings in a region that draws many participants was of more value than hosting a meeting in a location where there would be little participation. Unfortunately, if that was the primary criterion, it would virtually eliminate any possibility of hosting an IETF meeting in Africa. This makes it even more of a challenge to the communities in those regions to become active contributors to the future of Internet protocols and standards development, and not just consumers of the Internet.

We wish to take this opportunity to thank ISOC for making our participation at the IETF 66 meeting possible. Further, we wish to thank our mentors, Joe Abley, Jaap Akkerhuis, John Crain, Lucy Lynch, Frederico Neves and ISOC staff members Mirjam Kühne and Matthew Shears for ensuring that we settled in without much ado.