Words from the IAB Chair – July 2016

By: Andrew Sullivan

Date: July 6, 2016

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I became IAB chair in Dallas, Texas, in 2015. It isn’t quite true that as I boarded the plane to Buenos Aires for IETF 95 that I couldn’t believe it had been a year; it was more like the year had evaporated while I wasn’t noticing.

Naturally, because of the Internet Architecture Board’s (IAB’s) role in looking after the IETF’s relationship with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a lot of that time went into the IANA transition. But, in a way, the time pressure turned out to be healthy for the IAB. More on this below.

The IAB Reports

As I noted in the previous edition, we heard positive reactions to the idea that the IAB would make most of its report in email and devote some time to just a few highlights in the meeting. So, we did that again. The report is available at We plan to keep working this way as long as it is useful. Don’t forget, you can discuss with the IAB anything you see in that report or in this note, or anything else you want the IAB to attend to. If you want to do it in public, send mail to [email protected] If you want to talk to the IAB without causing a public discussion, send mail to [email protected]

The IAB Changes

The first meeting of the calendar year is the time when appointment terms end and new appointments begin. At IETF 95, the IAB had to say good-bye to two departing colleagues: Mary Barnes and Marc Blanchet. At the same meeting, we welcomed Lee Howard and Martin Thomson. It is always difficult to accept that valued colleagues will no longer be available in the same capacity as before. Yet the changes bring fresh perspective and renewal, and that renewal is what ensures that the IAB can be of service to the IETF and the Internet. The Internet does not sit still. Neither should we.

The IAB also annually appoints its chair. I am flattered by my IAB colleagues’ trust in me in selecting me for another year. I hope this one doesn’t go as fast!

Technical Plenary Discussions

After IETF 95, we received some expressions of disappointment that there was no technical topic at the plenary. When we decided that less plenary time is better—and we got a lot of feedback to that effect—we had to acknowledge that every year one plenary needs to include more administrative detail. New IESG, IAOC, and IAB members get introduced. Once a year we simply must go through a detailed outline of the accounts in public, lest basic transparency be lost. For the same transparency reasons, we cannot cut the open mic. Under these constraints, it is necessary that something be cut from the program, and the technical topic had to be it.

But fear not! We expect to continue technical topics at the other plenaries in the year. Look for one in Berlin.

Time Demands and Making the IAB Work

I noted at the beginning that, since I’ve been chair, the IANA stewardship transition has taken a lot of time. This has been frustrating for me because there are lots of other things that I wanted to do. But it has likewise been inspiring, and has reminded me how effective we are when we divide up the work.

Because I’ve had to devote so much time to the transition, the IAB as a whole has had to work harder to do what otherwise might be done by the chair. The programs, as you have seen from our reports, have become both more effective and more subject to regular review. The good consequences are, I think, seen in the workshops the IAB is holding to address pressing issues and the way that programs are producing topics that inspire IETF work. But to me, the other lesson is just important: when the IAB spreads out its work among many different collaborating people, the work happens and we don’t have a single choke point.

There is still work to do in this direction. The IAB chair automatically inherits certain jobs by virtue of being the chair. Why? Especially in an organization like the IETF, any IAB member is as able to speak unilaterally for the IAB as the chair is. You may have noticed that we now sometimes send out notices from different members of the IAB saying “for the IAB”. We think this is correct: the IAB speaks as one when it does speak, regardless who the mouthpiece is. What matters is that it reflect the IAB’s view. We’ll probably always need to have a chair to make other organizations think we work like they do. But we don’t have to work that way for real.

Retreating to Advance

Every year, the IAB holds a retreat, usually not too long after the new IAB is seated. The goal is to try to ensure that each IAB member has a clear understanding of what others’ priorities are for the year, and to ensure that we have a common direction so that we work effectively together. This year, we met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, on 17 and 18 May.

Inevitably, some of this is IAB members talking to each other—the goal, after all, is partly to ensure we’re aligned. But the IAB tries to ensure that the discussions in our retreat are also responsive to factors impinging on the Internet. This year, our topics about those external factors included the ongoing influence of the so-called Internet of Things on the Internet’s architecture; this discussion led directly to the IAB’s comments to the United States National Telecommunications & Information Administration in response to their request ( We spent some time talking about cross-organization workshops: what has worked, what could use improvement, and what more of this we need to do. By the time you read this, the IAB-cosponsored Internet of Things Software Update workshop will have happened ( We also discussed developments in Internet architecture that tend to promote the power or control of the network operator. And we had the good fortune of welcoming Danny Weitzner, Taylor Reynolds, and Dave Clark from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Internet Policy Research Initiative. Together, they discussed with us the ways that the IAB can and cannot interact effectively with policy makers. Our goal always is to identify those issues that are relevant to the Internet as a whole, and to find the people who are interested in the topic and can help make it better.

Let’s Advance

By the time you read this, the IETF will be meeting in Berlin for IETF 96, and the IAB will be pressing ahead on its issues: keeping the different parts of the Internet working as a coherent whole, while remaining faithful to the core design of a network of networks. If you want help understanding how different parts might fit together, or want another point of view on an issue you’re trying to sort out, feel free to ask us for it. Send us mail at [email protected] or discuss your topic on [email protected] Or, if you’re in Berlin, you can just talk to us. We have red dots, and we’re all friendly. Even me.