The following text is copyright 1997 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

Talking can help

A few weeks ago the formation of IOPS.ORG was announced.( Its initial members are ANS Communications, AT&T, BBN Corporation, EarthLink Network, GTE, MCI, NETCOM, PSINet, and UUNET. This is an organization that hopes to put deeds in front of pronouncements as exemplified by the non-wordiness of its draft charter which, in its entirety is:

IOPS.ORG promotes, in the public interest, industry cooperation on the joint engineering efforts to help ensure an operational global Internet. It addresses issues that require coordination and information-sharing across and among Internet service providers, including:

1. Joint problem resolution

2. Technology assessment

3. Global Internet scaling and integrity

To accomplish its goals, IOPS.ORG supports engineering analysis, system simulation and testing, and interaction with other groups and organizations as appropriate.

If you can not quite figure out what they are up to from the draft charter the press release says IOPS.ORG is "dedicated to making the commercial Internet more robust and reliable" and will do so by "addressing issues that require technical coordination and technical information-sharing across and among ISPs." i.e., by explicitally having the technical people at the ISPs communicate. What a radical idea!

Technical communication for operations is not a new idea. The Network Reliability Steering Committee does this in the telephone business and there have been a number of Internet-related groups that have tried to do this in the past, for example, the Network Joint Management working group in the IETF and the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG). One rather major difference between these other Internet efforts and IOPS.ORG is that IOPS.ORG is a dues paying membership organization and the members actually agree to do some work. The previous efforts have been far more ad-hoc.

The membership nature of IOPS.ORG presents significant benefits and some real challenges. The biggest advantage is currently one of scale. It is far easier to get real work done in an organization of less than a dozen members than in open meetings where there can be over a hundred attendees. Another advantage is the commitment that has been made by the founding members to actually try and get some real work done. There are a number of challenges created by the same small membership. There are thousands of ISPs in the US,. Clearly their specific interests can not be fully met by a group with so few members, but their general interest is most importantly a viable Internet, and that can be fostered even by such a small group. Some of the non-members may complain of non-representation or anti-trust collusion and that is a shame, but it is part of what passes for self interest in these times.

IOPS.ORG by itself will not magically make the Internet work perfectly for all purposes. Technical coordination can not fix under capitalization, arrogant cluelessness, or over subscribed data links. What it can do is explore ways to add robustness to ISP interconnections and to reduce the duration and impact of outages. Seems like a good idea to me.

disclaimer: Arrogant and clueless clearly do not apply to Harvard and anyway the above are my own opinions.