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Outgoing IETF chair reflects, looks ahead

By , Network World
November 22, 2004 12:11 AM ET

Network World - Cisco Fellow Harald Alvestrand is stepping down in March as chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet's premier standards-setting body. Alvestrand led the IETF for four years as the all-volunteer group of network engineers reeled from overwhelming workloads that stretched from the height of the Internet bubble through the corporate bankruptcies, unemployment and slashed travel budgets at the depths of the dot-com bust. Network World Senior Editor Carolyn Duffy Marsan spoke with Alvestrand about his tenure at the IETF and his plans for the future.

What progress has the IETF made in improving the timeliness of its standards development work?

We've cut down on the number of [documents] stuck for dumb reasons. The RFC Editor has a backlog of several months. They've suggested hiring a new person to cut down the queue. That will probably happen next year. We're experimenting with changing the way objections are handled at the document-approval level. We're giving the working-group chairs more responsibility here. We also have shut down 11 working groups since August primarily because their work was done.

What will be the legacy of your four-year stint as IETF chair?

If the restructuring [of our administrative processes via cooperation with the Internet Society] is successful, that will be my legacy. What I hope is that my successor will be remembered as being the chair when the IETF ran more effectively and had a greater impact on the world.

What are the most important protocols developed at the IETF during your tenure?

SIP and iSCSI because they both created emerging markets. [Editor's note: The Session Initiation Protocol supports real-time communications and is the foundation on which the IETF is creating voice, video and instant-messaging applications. ISCSI enables universal access to storage devices and storage-area networks over standard Ethernet-based TCP/IP networks.]

I notice you didn't mention IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to IPv4.

IPv6 was a done deal before I came onboard. It's not something that I consider to have influenced. But I do enjoy seeing it moving from an experiment to being a common checkbox for network products. It does have further to go.

In several high-profile areas - most notably instant messaging and spam - the network industry turned to the IETF for a technical solution, and the IETF failed to deliver.

The IETF has gotten its act together recently on an instant messaging and presence protocol. We already had made progress on [a SIP-based approach]. And it seems that the hype level has gone down on instant messaging. Everyone at the IETF meetings uses Jabber. But you can't talk between Jabber and MSN because MSN sees value in keeping a closed network. Instant messaging is just like IPv6. Just because we have specifications doesn't mean the market will adopt them.

What about spam? Many people in the network industry hoped the IETF would come up with a technical solution to this problem.

I was at the Federal Trade Commission hearing on spam [this month], and the conclusion was that there is no silver bullet. Technology is one component, but we have to try multiple approaches. Spam is different than all but our security protocols in that you're not facing random chance, you're facing an intelligent attack. The question is how will spammers change their behavior when a technical solution is released. Technical solutions have been oversold. We have many [protocol] drafts that have come in related to spam. We closed [one spam-related working group] because we couldn't get consensus, but we will open others if we see enough interest.

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