My InfoWorld Column About NANOG

A few of you missed one point at least. I am NOT suggesting that any of
YOU start wearing suits, especially if you find them uncomfortable, or that
they make a statement you are not willing to make -- none of that, no --
good engineers are too valuable to overdress. I am suggesting that more of
the kind of people who ALREADY wear suits should start paying attention to
the important work NANOG is attempting and start attending your meetings so
they can pitch in on the non-engineering aspects of operating the Internet.
Is that clearer now?

I will make sure not to miss this point.

By the way, there are reports from two days ago that 400,000 people lost
their Internet access for 13 hours. Sounds like an outage approaching
"collapse." Was that just a Netcom thing that NANOG has no interest in?
Netcom is not talking very much about what happened. Any clues/facts out
there? Were any NAPs involved?

That wasn't a collapse. It was a syntax error by one provider disrupting
that one provider's service to it's customer base. Just because they have
400,000 customers doesn't mean that their screw-up represents a collapse
of the internet.

/Bob Metcalfe, InfoWorld


InfoWorld / From the Ether / Bob Metcalfe

NANOG Meeting Column


The North American Network Operations Group (NANOG) remains our best bet
for managing through the Internet's coming collapses. Problem is, like the
Internet, NANOG itself is struggling to scale up.

Yes and no.

    I've just been among the 350 mostly engineers attending NANOG's May
meeting at George Washington University. It's clear now, even if they hate
the idea, that if NANOG is to lead us toward an industrial-strength
Internet, then it must now urgently attract the active participation of
many more men and women who routinely wear suits.

This is a two-edged sword, and I suspect that you are not seeing both edges.
NANOG has been a very effective and useful forum for a long time. It has
allowed North American network operators a place to get down to the technical
where the presenters can assume that the audience is knowledgable and heavily
involved in this stuff on a daily basis. If you start attracting a lot
of suits, that suffers. You can't have a bunch of suits attending a meeting
like this and still talk high-end BGP-4 techinese without alienating the
suits. NANOG's primary mission is to provide a forum for addressing highly
technical issues. I believe that the addition of a large number of suits
would hinder that process.

I do agree that the suits need to build a forum, but I don't think it should
be done at the expense of NANOG's strong technical focus.

    Here, on April Fool's Day, I nominated NANOG as that organization best
positioned to lift the Internet out of its current, disfunctional
operations anarchy. I then incorrectly identified NANOG as part of the
Internet Society's Internet Engineering and Planning Group (IEPG), a
seemingly defunct sister of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
Turns out I was wrong about what I'd read on the Web at

IEPG is not defunct. For more information on IEPG, you would do well
to contact Elise P. Gerich ( She is the IEPG leader.
IEPG has a more global focus than NANOG. People from all over the
world attend IEPG, whereas NANOG is primarly North Americo-centric.
Also, IEPG tends to be less technical and more overview/big-picture
oriented than NANOG. Indeed, IEPG might well be a good place to bring
together the suits and the techies for the type of forum you describe.

    Yes, I found pettiness and bureaucratic infighting among the groups I
had hoped would be pulling the Internet together. I stand corrected, but
not reassured.

I don't know who exactly you talked to, but this characterization is largely
unfair. By and large, IETF, ISOC, and Merit all have their contributions.
All are valuable organizations. True, there is an absence of well defined
roles right now, but this is an evolving immature technology which just
had it's primary infrastructure completely rearranged by the US NSF. I
would say, in the face of such a revolution, the fact that the system continues
to work at all is amazing, let alone continuing to sustain exponential
growth and a less than exponential decay in service.

   Back at NANOG, I was surrounded by people whose life is about "running
code." I twiddled as these mostly engineers, unaccustomed as they are to
public speaking, stood up one by one in front of 350 people without having
ever tried their slides on GWU's projection system. We all waited while
Windows booted. If you have running code, it seems, you don't have to
respect your audience by checking your slides at least once in advance. Or
by wearing a suit.

Look, we're not polished presenters. It's not our strong suit. However,
we can answer the questions the other engineers come up with after we
present. If we sent a polished presenter (suit) in instead, sure, he
could go through the slides and would be a better speaker. But he wouldn't
have the first clue what half the questions related to, and he'd probably
have a hard time pronouncing half the words on the slides.

    Then the fit hit the shan. Various earnest young speakers from Merit
stood up one by one to report "alarming" statistics from the Internet --
rapidly increasing packet loss rates and routing instabilities
( They asked the NAPs
and NSPs, "Where are so many packets being lost?"
    "Somewhere else," came the denial.

You know, this is not atypical of any engineering session where one trys
to resolve interdepartmental issues. You can bring our dirty laundry out
for the public to see if you want, but it's not productive or helpful, any
more than the very infighting you complained about earlier. The reality
is that when problems occur, denial is the first defense of almost any
human. I guarantee you that there were few people amongst those 350
who could be said to do less in any single day to keep the internet running
than you have done in a year. You can say what you want about "rough
consensus and running code" but everything else is theory. Everything else
is more complicated and less effective.

    Then followed an afternoon and another morning of pleadings. For
standards on traffic measurements. For regular outage reporting. For
cooperation on gathering topological information to use in Internet
operations management. For streamlining multilateral "peering agreements"
among ISPs. For systematic use of an Internet Routing Registry. And, from
an actual Internet user, pleadings for cooperation on end-to-end service

You can call this pleadings if you want, but for the most part, these
included proposals on how to go about it as well. Perhaps an engineering
environment is sufficiently foreign to you that you don't realize that
we do things a little differently from "suits". We generally put things
on the table that we think will solve a problem. Then we watch as other
engineers mercilessly pick it apart and tell us what's broken about it.
Then we work together on ways to resolve those issues. Eventually, we
come up with a design everyone thinks they can live with and we try to
build something that looks like what we agreed upon. Some years ago,
this process eventually generated a protocol now known as IP. Further
rounds then resulted in IPv4. Later still, we are on the verge of seeing
IPv6 come out of this same process.

    Sadly, there was nobody at NANOG with the organizational sophistication
to grab hold of these pleadings and accelerate them toward action. So,
hey, I've got an idea, let's ask the business executives to whom current
attendees of NANOG report to buy some T-shirts and take over. The Internet
needs more than running code.

No, the Internet doesn't need more than running code. The Internet needs
more running code. That is the goal you claim we lack the organizational
sophistication to attain. Frankly, I think you miss alot of what happened
at the meeting. Noone has to "grab hold of these pleadings." Each and
every engineer in that room probably will spend some time thinking about
the needs identified in those pleadings. Out of that, at some point,
will come some design ideas. Probably at the next NANOG. From those
design ideas, will come design reviews, followed by prototype code,
followed by running code, followed by debugging, followed by a workable
system. That is how the internet engineering world works. It has worked
that way for a long time. I'm sorry if it isn't happening fast enough
to satisfy you or make you think that we're all a great bunch of people,
however, it is happening. Adding suits will only serve to muddy the waters.

However, if you would like to contribute the funding to hire a full-time
staff of about 15-20 of those engineers in that room and one or two suits
to manage them, then allow them to work on nothing but the problems you
mention, you could probably achieve results within 6-12 months. I estimate
many of the results will be obtained through the existing NANOG process in
12-24 months.

    Now, what would happen if some of NANOG's big university, NAP, and NSP
regulars showed up among the many small commercial ISPs expected August
8-10 at ONE ISPCON in San Francisco? I'll be summarizing there. See or call 800-933-6038.

Probably several will be there. I likely will. Technically, you could call
my ISP a small one, but it's being run like a big one, and we're peering and
routing like a big one. The delta is just a matter of time and customers.