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Not Just GOSIP Anymore

By: Scott Bradner

The U.S. Federal Internetworking Requirements Panel (FIRP) has issued a draft of its reevaluation of the U.S. government's "requirements for open systems networks and to recommend policy on the Government's use of networking standards." I expect that by the time this column appears there will have been a number of news stories about the draft and its recommendations. Since it refers to some issues that I've written about in these columns in the past, I'd like to make some more comments now.

This panel was convened to examine the disconcerting (to some) fact that, although back in 1988 the U.S. Government had defined a subset of the OSI networking standards, known as GOSIP, as the official network protocols for all governmental use, (sort of like the official toothpaste for the Olympic games, but in this case the payment is reversed), the use of other network protocols, most notably TCP/IP, continued to expand.

In a previous column (May 31 1993, page 21) I lamented that as far as higher level corporate management, and by implication, governmental management (if management be a legitimate word in this context) was concerned, the IETF standards could garner little respect. This is in spite of the careful standards development process that I described in a subsequent column (July 5, page 13).

There are positive many things in this 40 page draft from the FIRP, but one of the most satisfying to me as an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) attendee, an Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) member, an Internet Society member and an Internet Society trustee is the recommendation that "for the U.S. Federal Government, IETF standards should qualify as 'open, international, voluntary standards' and, therefore should qualify for use on an equal basis with standards from internationally recognized standards organizations."

The board has determined that the IETF standards process and the resulting standards are legitimate and not the equivalent of as a slightly off-color joke. This draft suggests that it is better to strive for effective and cost efficient solutions to problems rather than to blindly follow the holy grail of any particular set of standards. If these recommendations are adopted then TCP/IP and OSI products will be not only competing between themselves but also with IPX, SNA and AppleTalk to provide the best match to the needs of the particular governmental organization.

This only applies to the U.S. government and only if the draft is not modified during the comment period. It does not mandate any changes in U.S. industry but, just maybe, the action will be noted in some of the higher management layers. The people on the lower levels, who have had the job of actually getting things to work have been voting with their designs for quite a while.

This also only applies within the U.S.. There are many other governments across the globe that have established GOSIP-like requirements of their own. This U.S. document might be used as an example of the kind of change that is best for the entire networking community.

The text of the draft report is available via anonymous ftp from the prophetically named computer "". Comments on the draft can be sent to the email address ' It is also real nice to see that they prefer comments in electronic form instead of paper.


Sign seen in the window of a local restaurant: "all new breakfast - $2.99" - I don't want to know what the alternative is.

Disclaimer: Opinions? Harvard does not have opinions, it has dictates, and these ain't them