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Happy 25th Birthday, Internet Engineering Task Force

January 18, 2011 by admin

From a notorious striptease by Internet pioneer Vint Cerf to a fist-pumping, table-jumping brawl about cryptography policy, the Internet's premier standards-setting body has had its share of big moments.

The Internet Engineering Task Force turns 25 today.
25 years of "rough consensus and running code"

From Network World

The IETF is responsible for many of the underlying standards that make the Internet work, including the Internet Protocol (IP) for data transfer, Domain Name System (DNS) for matching domain names with IP addresses, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) for sending e-mail, and Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) for traffic engineering.

Over the years, the IETF has published more than 4,500 documents that describe standards for the Internet's fundamental technologies, and these documents are referenced by network operators on a daily basis.

It is these standards and this body's enforcement of them, that have given us network neutrality.

In abstraction the Internet is these standards. They define the architecture. They tell you what's under the hood. True, anyone can put trains on this railroad, i.e. make Internet hardware and software, but these standards lay down the law. We have network neutrality today because it has been a fundamental operating principal of this body as it published those 4,500 RFCs that define the Internet.

Unlike other standards bodies that rely on corporate or government members, the IETF is known for its outspoken, individualistic participants, who have rigorous debates at their thrice-annual meetings and online chats. IETF leaders, who work on a volunteer basis, come from the world's most powerful networking companies, including Cisco, Juniper, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia.

"The IETF is unique," says Russ Housley, an Internet security expert who got involved with the group in 1987 and has been IETF Chair since 2007. "Unlike other standards bodies, wherever possible the IETF avoids formal hierarchy, and there are no membership requirements or fees. The IETF invites all interested parties to participate in the technical evolution and work toward even greater stability of the Internet. The IETF's standards are available online, without charge, providing a platform for the continued growth and evolution of the Internet."

The majority rules at the IETF, and all proposals must have working prototypes before they are approved as standards. This has led to the group's motto of seeking "rough consensus and running code."

"The biggest strength of the IETF is its openness," says Harald Alvestrand, a Cisco fellow who led the group from 2001 to 2005. "We are able to take input from the whole world, and we arrive at our decisions through a process that you are welcome to watch and participate in."

Another IETF leader tells us how this body differs from other international standards bodies:

"In the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), governments approve the standards, and formal submissions come from companies," explains Bradner, who serves as liaison between the IETF and ITU. "In the IETF, it's individuals, not companies, who submit ideas. And it's the consensus of the community as interpreted by the IETF leadership that prevails. That's very different from having Germany decide it doesn't like a standard."

This is an organization that most Internet users have never heard of, but all of us who use the Internet owe these volunteers a deep debt of gratitude, because their labor, often donated, and their democracy, "one member, one vote", their openest, "all documents, standards and discussions available for free on-line" and their practicality, "working code" have given us the Internet that we have today.

That is why I am here writing this on a Saturday night while the Gumbo Brothers are playing at the Venice Bistro. I promised to commemorate their 25 years of service and good works with my fellow Kossacks and I feel I owe it to them.

The following excerpts from a meeting guide will give you more of the favor of this organization that has been working quietly behind the scenes and doing much good for humanity:

RFC 1391 - The Tao of the IETF: A Guide for New Attendees

The purpose of this For Your Information (FYI) RFC is to explain to the newcomers how the IETF works. This will give them a warm, fuzzy feeling and enable them to make the meeting more productive for everyone.
Dress Code

Since attendees must wear their name tags, they must also wear shirts or blouses. Pants or skirts are also highly recommended. Seriously though, many newcomers are often embarrassed when they show up Monday morning in suits, to discover that everybody else is wearing T-shirts, jeans (shorts, if weather permits) and sandals. There are those in the IETF who refuse to wear anything other than suits. Fortunately, they are well known (for other reasons) so they are forgiven this particular idiosyncrasy.
The guy wearing the suit is probably Vint Cerf, the President of the Internet Society and an IAB member. If you see a guy doing a strip tease out of a suit, it's definitely Vint (but don't come just to see him do it again; he's only done it once in the Internet's 20 year history).
Hallway conversations are very important. A lot of very good work gets done by people who talk together between meetings and over lunches and dinners. Every minute of the IETF can be considered work time (much to some people's dismay).

"Bar BOFs" are unofficial get-togethers, usually in the late evening, during which a lot of work gets done over drinks.

Pronounced "Dow", Tao means "the Way." It is the basic principle behind the teachings of Lao-tse, a Chinese master. Its familiar symbol is the black and white Yin-Yang circle.

Network World continues:

Like the Internet itself, the IETF has migrated away from its roots in the U.S. Defense Department to becoming increasingly commercial and global over the years. Back in 1996, the IETF was led by Michael Corrigan, then the technical manager for the Defense Data Network program. Today, the IETF chair is Housley, who runs his own consulting shop called Vigil Security. In between, the group has been led by network engineers from the United States, Norway and Great Britain, who worked for such industry stalwarts as Cisco and IBM.

But the best thing about IETF is that anyone can join. There are no technical, national, gender, or professional requirements. If you don't like what's happening on the Internet or the way IETF is handling things, you can join, and then you will have a vote.

The IETF held its first meeting on the afternoon of Jan. 16, 1986 in San Diego with 21 attendees. In March, the group will hold its 80th meeting in Prague, and more than 1,000 attendees are expected. The group will publicly recognize its 25th birthday at the Prague meeting.

I sometimes think that the Internet, and the collective action that it enables, has replaced the United States as the "last, best hope of humanity." But I also feel that the Internet as we have known it is in grave danger from those forces that are driven to control our information sources and block our collective action. This is why I have blogged so much on these issues. I feel it is that important.

This is why it rankles me so when certain senators and certain talking heads and certain lobbying groups like Free Press prattle on about how the Internet is unregulated and we better put the FCC in charge.

They want to take power away from the IETF and give it to the FCC because obviously whoever has been running it so far has gotten things all fouled up and not allowed the Internet to develop in innovative and useful ways? No, that can't be it. It's because the Internet is international and the FCC can better represent the concerns of the world? No, that can't be it. Then it must be because the FCC has done such a bang-up job in representing the people as opposed to the corporations in its stewardship of the telephone, radio and TV!

And they never mention the IETF, probably because they never heard of the IETF because they are Internet users who are clueless about how the Internet really works.

This link is just for fun. Personally I think they should add BoA trying to buy up all the abusive domain names to the list but what the hell.
The 6 Most Disastrous Attempts at Internet Damage Control

Here is a recap of my other DKos dairies on this subject:
The WikiLeaks Revolution: Anonymous Strikes Tunisia
EMERGENCY: DKos Must Act Now to Protect Tunisian Bloggers!
Free Software & Internet Show Communism is Possible
BREAKING - Digital Sit-Ins: The Internet Strikes Back!
Cyber War Report: New Front Opens Against Internet Coup d'état
Operation PayBack: 1st Cyber War Begins over WikiLeaks
The Internet Takeover: Why Google is Next
BREAKING: Goodbye Internet Freedom as Wikileaks is Taken Down
BREAKING NEWS: Obama Admin Takes Control of Internet Domains!
Things Even Keith Olbermann Won't Cover - UPDATE: VICTORY!!!
Stop Internet Blacklist Bill Now!
Sweet Victory on Internet Censorship: Senate Backs Off!
Internet Engineers tell the Senate to Back Off!
Why is Net Neutrality advocate Free Press MIA?
Obama's Internet Coup d'état
Julian Assange on Threat to Internet Freedom
FCC Net Neutrality's Trojan Horse
Free Press: Country Codes for the Internet?
The Mountain comes to Mohammad
Keith Olbermann's Deception
Court rules -> Google Must Be Evil & Maximize Profits
EFF on the Google\Verizon Net Neutrality Proposal
Google-Verizon: What is the Free Press Agenda?
End of the Internet As We Know It!
Free Press would make this Illegal!
Google Verizon Announce Terms of Deal

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