Category Archives: General

Every network is a snowflake

The question often arises:  why is it so hard to get  Internet-wide critical technology innovations into the real world?   The mind quickly leaps to lay blame:  perhaps the proposed solutions are somehow defective.  If, after successive iterations of redesign discussions,  better approaches don’t surface,  there is a collective resigned sigh that the real problem must be a lack of a “killer app” to drive uptake.

However, what this glosses over is the fact that every network is a snowflake.  No two are the same.   While strong solutions and compelling applications may provide motivation for deployment of needed technologies, there is always a certain amount of necessary custom work to be done in order to adopt a new approach within a given network.     That may be hard, in terms of engineering, and it most certainly will require business motivation in commercial networks.   So, critical technology innovations tend to get deployed patchily, and over time, across different networks in the Internet.

Snowflakes are individual, complex, and beautiful

Before we conclude that we should seek conformity in networking (melt that snowflake!), let’s review some of the ways in which the Internet’s support for diversity and individuality has been a strength.

Internetworking brought us a global network because the focus was on specifying how networks could connect to each other, allowing data to travel between them without making undue suppositions about what individual networks did with data inside their own borders.    I.e., existing networks could be connected together.

It has also allowed networks to be developed to support a wide range of purposes, with widely divergent structures to support them.  Networks are tools, and network elements are components that can be fit together and managed to support whatever activity its operator desires.

A network built for an enterprise has to support the enterprise’s business activity (e.g., individuals communicating, accessing particular services), and the enterprise can elect to support or prevent network uses as they are, or are not, appropriate for their business.  While an ISP may seem to have the same purpose — allowing individuals to communicate and access various services — the relationship to those users is completely different, as is the physical layout of the network.  An ISP can’t tell users which services they aren’t allowed to use during business hours (as long as there are some tendrils of network neutrality in effect), doesn’t have an a priori expectation of what individuals will want to do, and the network has to span many neighbourhoods, with access from each address within them, in order to be viable.  That’s very different than an enterprise network, which might be expected to support a handful of buildings on a few campuses.      Those are just two general types of networks — there are many more — networks that connect other networks, networks within homes, mobile data networks, and networks in data centres, academic networks, to name a few.

When it comes time to do an Internet-wide upgrade, such as deploying IPv6, network differences play an important role in determining an operator’s perspective on the importance of deployment, and the level of effort required.  While a business with an enterprise network is in a position to know what equipment on the network is IPv6 capable or not, and to map out an upgrade plan, the enterprise network is  fairly static in size (i.e., not requiring large swaths of new addresses on a regular basis), and the need for IPv6 support may not be apparent, from the perspective of managing business expenses.   An ISP may have control over the connecting box in their customer’s premises, or they may not (depending on the network’s business choices, and whether customers expect to be able to buy their own devices).  The ISP operator likely have little awareness of the capabilities of the customer equipment attached directly to their network, and exactly no detail on the capabilities of the customer’s in-home devices.  Will it work for the customer?  To deploy IPv6, an ISP has to support it internally in its core, and at all the network notes spread throughout all the neighbourhoods they support.   However, assuming business is good, they do have to be able to provide usable Internet addresses to a growing set of customers, and in today’s reality, that means there is a business driver for supporting IPv6.

While that gives a glimpse into the reasons why there rarely is a uniform path to deploying new technologies across the diverse networks that make up the Internet, it should also provide a reminder of why supporting diversity is valuable.   Apart from differences of purpose, networks have “grown up” differently because of local factors across the world (geography, resource allocation policies)  or history (e.g., transformed telco monopoly, expansion of a multinational, or stitched together from the acquisition of one or more networks of similar or smaller size).    These evolutions would be a lot harder, if not impossible, if we didn’t have an Inter-network.

So, while we may be frustrated at seeming lack of progress on getting important technologies deployed,  we shouldn’t start by assuming they are somehow wrong-minded.  We live in a complex (networking) world, and the complexity does us more favours than not.  If we didn’t need and want what this diversity gives us, the Internet never would have trampled over such uniform experiences as MiniTel and AOL.

 

 

When do you need a TechArk?

One of the questions that comes up regularly is:  what kind of projects are appropriate for TechArk?

So, here’s a handy little diagram, perhaps even a logo, to keep that in mind.

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Activity Types

TechArk activities take different shapes and have different funding models, but all are focused on advancing the mission and model through small teams coordinating activities of a neutral platform.

URSA and NOMA are two examples of “microcosm” activities that are designed to tackle a specific question that is impeding technology development and foster cross-industry collaboration to address it.

Microcosm

Additionally, the infrastructure/skills and expertise of TechArk can be used to home a project that would otherwise be a floating collection of volunteers across companies.

Plans for the future include setting up and hosting future-looking technology colloquia, to broaden the horizons of Internet technology development in a cross-industry, collaborative fashion.

 

Funding

Currently, TechArk is an umbrella under which individually-funded projects are homed, making it a confederation of consulting projects.  Establishing a new project means both acceptance as a TechArk-related item and getting funding for it.

Ultimately, the goal is to have a sustainable funding model for individual activities within TechArk, so that it can be organized more formally and build itself out to tackle new projects.  To do so requires a business model and product plan.

The current draft plan looks something like this:

TechArk-Funding

 

TechArk: creating better Internet through collaboration

While 2015 saw a steadily growing set of activity around the notion of a “Centre for Creative Development for the Internet“,  the plan for 2016 is to drive some more concrete activities and see if we can generate enough interest and support to make this an actual organization, with resources, for ongoing focus on collaboration and cross-industry facilitation.

You can check out the 2016 TechArk Plan, and be sure to check back in for updates through the year.  Better yet — come collaborate!

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Materials

Presentations

v6 Health Metric with NOMA — at RIPE 74, May 2017.  (You can watch the video of the presentation from the RIPE 74 archive, here).

NOMA at the MAPRG meeting — July 2016. (You can watch the video of the MAPRG meeting delivery from the IETF YouTube channel, here).

Introducing NOMA — April 2016.

Whitepapers, reports

Report from the first NOMA workshop, June 2016.

Report from the first URSA roundtable, April 2015.

 

TechArk descriptions, plans

2016 TechArk Plan.

Blog

Welcome

Too often,  deployment of new and needed technologies can languish because they require a concerted effort across independent networks that span international borders.   The right people in one company might know the right people in another, but there’s no way to iron out the details on how to move forward, or find other willing partners to engage in deployment and (re)development.

Cross-industry collaboration has important precedents, but it is rarely completely spontaneous:  there is no “magic wand” for Internet technology deployment.   The intention for TechArk is to cultivate it where and when needed, empowering individual organizations to make the Internet better.

20161007-techark-compassrose-transparent

TechArk is a “centre for the creative development of the Internet” (CCDI).   Its work is to advance the Internet’s technology development and deployment through leadership and targeted activities coordinating action of interested Internet stakeholders.

TechArk is not a formal organization, at this time. It is a second-generation formulation of an approach to tackling hard Internet problems, organized by Thinking Cat Enterprises LLC.

CCDI

About the concept of a Centre for the Creative Development of the Internet

Centre:  Organized hub for collaborative activities

  • Coordination, not ownership

Creative:

  • New targets
  • Innovative approaches

Development:

  • Evolution of the Internet as a whole
  • Making a bigger pie for all interests
  • Technology: defining, building, deploying, operating

Internet:

  • The global network of networks

Thoughts and suggestions to:  ldaigle at techark.org .