Some things are too good to keep to ourselves. The opportunity to hear about the present and future of the Internet from Russ Housley, chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), is one of them.
With Verisign now settled into its new headquarters in Reston, VA, we were delighted to welcome guests from the community around us for the launch of the new Verisign Labs Distinguished Speaker Series on March 7, for which Russ was our first speaker.
As chair of the IETF since 2007, Russ directs the standards development community responsible for almost every fundamental Internet protocol, including “the” Internet Protocol (IP) – both IPv4 and IPv6; the Simple Message Transfer Protocol (SMTP) (aka “email”); and the Domain Name System (DNS).
One of Russ’s points that stood out most strongly to me was his observation about what makes an industry standard successful. Technical quality was last on his list. Other factors such as solving a real problem, being able to get copies of standards documents, and incremental deployment carry much more weight. IETF appropriately prioritizes on these factors, without overlooking technical quality but also without overemphasizing it. (Good advice for any kind of innovation!)
Russ described six challenges that are currently “pulling the Internet in many different directions”: power, bandwidth, mobility, new applications, smart objects, and infrastructures. Having worked with various aspects of the Internet most of my career, I’ve found it remarkable how resilient the Internet has been to all the “pulling” that has occurred, from the dramatic expansion of the World Wide Web to the rapid proliferation of mobile Internet access. The IETF’s role as a steward of Internet standards is one of the key reasons for the endurance. By making it possible for anyone with expertise and interest – whether from industry, government, academe, or just an individual – to participate in developing standards, the IETF taps into the best current thinking of the many stakeholders involved.
Russ also explained the main reasons that people come to IETF meetings: the “hallway conversations.” (The casual dress code and interesting locations may also be considerations.) IETF’s scheduled activities are essential to the formal standards development process, but the informal interactions are what it takes to build and sustain a community of standards developers and implementers.
One of my aspirations on joining Verisign a year ago was to create “hallway conversations” within the company that would connect our employees with the technical community around us. Russ’s visit fulfilled that aspiration well. I’m glad we were able to share it. I look forward to many more great talks and hallway conversations at Verisign as the Distinguished Speaker Series continues.