So far, we’ve looked at the naming system, routing, and policy in our travel through “internet land.” Last time, we took a quick look at some of the various organizations that create the standards that make the internet work. This time I’m going to start looking in more depth at one specific standard body, or SDO — not because of it’s importance or scale, but simply because it’s the one I’m most familiar with. Let’s take a deeper dive into the IETF. Hang on to your hats, because this is going to take several posts to go from looking at the formal structure, process, and then to talk about how the IETF really works (politics and microphones, oh my!).
Let’s start with the formal organization, illustrated below. Yes, you can click if you want a larger version (and I have this in pdf format off Corel if anyone wants an infinitely large version for their cube wall — though that might be admitting too much of geekiness).
The Internet Society (ISOC) actually charters the various IETF functions (something not a lot of people really know). We’ll talk more about the ISOC in a future post, as I think they’re one of the most important organizations in the internet ecosystem. Until we get there, it’s just important to note they are sponsored by companies and individuals who contribute (tax free) to the ISOC’s operations. The ISOC, in turn, charters the IESG and the IAB — the IETF at large — and the IRTF (the organization of the IRTF is similar to the IETF, so we won’t deep dive into that topic).
The Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) serve as the twin “guiding bodies” of the IETF itself. The IAB is made up of elected members who focus on overall architectural issues facing the Internet protocol suite, and procedural issues facing the IETF more specifically. For instance, the IAB maintains liaisons with other standards bodies (like W3C, the ITU, etc.), and with the Internet Number Authority (IANA), various RIRs, etc.
The IESG, on the other hand, is more “day to day,” being made up of all of the Area Directors. Traditionally there have been two AD’s per area, but recent discussions have thrown out the idea of having one or three AD’s in a particular area, as well — so this is a current area of change within the IETF’s organizational structure. The IESG has weekly telechats and periodic off sites to discuss organizational issues and specific drafts that have been put forward by working groups for adoption as an RFC (we’ll talk about the document process in a later post, as well). The AD’s also select the chairs of various working groups and BoF’s as they are formed, as well as shepherding working groups, shepherding documents through the process, and arbitrating disputes between and within working groups.
Each area is tasked with a specific technology domain — the current areas within the IETF are —
- Applications — internet registration, calendaring, etc.
- Internet — layer 3 (within the OSI model) transport protocols, and things like homenet, etc.
- Operations — YANG, NETCONF, IPFIX, etc.
- Real Time Applications — Music on Hold, etc.
- Security — IPsec, etc.
- Transport — TCP, UDP, etc.
There is a movement afoot to merge a couple of these areas of work, so this structure isn’t “set in stone.” You can see the current areas and working groups here. Some of the areas also have directorates — a group of long standing knowledgeable engineers within the area that help sort out conflicts, review documents, provide technical expertise to the AD’s, etc.
There are often design teams chartered by either working groups or areas to work on specific problem sets — the work of these design teams is returned as drafts to the relevant working groups for consideration (they aren’t processed any differently than any individual submission might be). There are also cross working group mailing lists set up to discuss ideas or technology that crosses the domain of two working groups — for instance, there’s a YANG/Routing mailing list that was recently formed to enable the creation of well designed YANG models for the routing protocols.
How are the AD’s (members of the IESG) and IAB members appointed? There is a standing Nominating Committee (NOMCOM), which considers about half the IESG, half the IAB, and a number of the liaison positions each year. The NOMCOM is elected in the summer, standing through the summer and spring to select IESG and IAB members, and staying in session until a new NOMCOM is selected the following year. Anyone who participates regularly in the IETF, and who is not currently holding an office the NOMCOM selects for, can volunteer to serve on the NOMCOM (I’ve served three one year stints on the NOMCOM, in fact, over the last ten years). The members of the NOMCOM are selected from the list of volunteers using a (complicated) completely random mechanism involving the price of specific stocks on a specific day of the year passed through a hash algorithm that then selects a “jump” through the list of volunteers.
Yes, that’s probably about the most boring blog post I’ve ever written here at PP — but this background is going to be helpful when we move through document processing, WG formation, and the other processes that make the IETF “go” — as well as understanding how and where to participate. If you’re still awake, I have a challenge.
The IETF looks huge on paper, doesn’t it? All those different committees, areas, offices, working groups, etc. So how big is the IETF, really? I’ll answer this question next time.