An Indian’s IETF Affair
“We have learnt the doctrines and dogmas, but realized nothing in our lives” – thus uttered Swami Vivekananda while upholding the teachings of Vedanta to the world. What he essentially meant was to resurrect the questioning and reasoning mind of India which was essentially the crux of the glorious spiritual message out of Indian civilization. However, during the course of facing the toils of time over centuries, Indian society, arguably, has become largely driven by doctrines and lacked the quality of reasoning. Probably this is one of the reasons why India, despite breeding world class minds, scientists and scholars and sporadic events of excellence, still lacks behind in terms of becoming a major contributor to the science and technology that is shaping human civilization in the modern world. We have largely remained as consumers of technology rather than being contributors. This has two major aspects –
Firstly, not being the inventors and producers of technology we get captivated in terms of unleashing the potentials to solve the India specific problems in an indigenous manner that suits the Indian settings.
Secondly, India looses independence in terms of the technological choices that she can make.
While talking about technical contribution, standardization of technologies invented in India is an important aspect. With Internet being the core enabler of the smart “Digital India” that we dream about, India’s contribution to standards in the IETF is a necessity to catch up and sustain in the race of technological excellence.
In the spirit of the above I shall briefly narrate my humble yet an eventful journey through the IETF endeavours. If anyone interested in contributing to the Internet gets benefitted from this article then that will be the ultimate accomplishment of the author.
My journey with the IETF became way back in the in the month of March in 2012 with IETF 83 in Paris. However, at that time, little did I know about IETF. I knew that it was the body behind making the Internet work. The RFCs, about which we read in the textbooks during the university courses, were considered no less than revered religious texts. Little did we understand that indeed RFCs are part of an evolving process and an individual can question them and contribute to augment the book of knowledge to cater the need for a future that he/she foresees. Thanks to teaching process that was largely bookish and also the fact that the ‘culture of contribution’, if I can say so, got largely lost despite the immensely powerful heritage of forerunners like J.C. Bose, P.C. Roy, S.N. Bose, C.V. Raman, M. N. Saha, P.C. Mahalanabis, H. J. Bhaba and so on.
During the course of my initial research work in IoT I had to look forward to the ongoing developments that were realizing this cutting-edge concept. I had to take resort to IETF during the investigation and then, as I started to go a bit deeper, I realized the open contribution process of IETF and also understood the importance of such an open standardization mechanism. So, my journey to Paris was more of an understanding of the IETF affairs.
My first day in IETF in Paris indeed appeared as a shock! Geeks sitting in the lobbies writing pieces of codes that will go somewhere in the Internet in future, experts fighting over words and phrases in Working Group meetings just to nail down the problem in the most righteous way, people discussing protocols in coffee breaks – welcome to the world of the makers of the Internet – are you ready to be a part of it?
The question kept on murmuring in my mind since then – are you ready to be a part of it? The initial shock left some permanent placeholder in my thought. But I was really not sure – how?
I had to wait till more than a year. During early 2013, in an ‘auspicious’ late night hour in office, something struck the string of thoughts while we were thinking hard about how to increase certain performance parameters of a system. This was the “eureka” moment. We found something which could be added to some specifications that were being discussed at the IETF and that too in a most undisruptive manner.
By the middle of 2013 we decided to go for a submission in IETF and our Internet draft got submitted. The initial positive reactions led us to seek a presentation slot in IETF 88 in Vacouver, Canada in November 2013. I presented for the first time in an IETF meeting. We got a positive feedback to continue the work as there was significant amount of interest in the community.
We further submitted two more drafts related to IoT security, however, our maiden draft was slowly started to look promising to become an RFC. However, it took us immense effort and time and it was indeed a test of perseverance and tenacity to keep the flame up for almost three long years.
These were the times when I was going through a steep self learning curve – both in terms of the IETF processes as well as distinctive technicalities of writing a draft that will define certain features of the future Internet!
Finally, in August 2016, we got our maiden draft converted into an RFC. This was perhaps the first ever RFC which had all the authors who were not only Indian, but were from an organization rooted in India. That was really a moment of accomplishment and a humble feeling of giving back to society that helped us grow.
The following figure illustrates the Travelogue:
As I mentioned earlier, the journey has been an immensely enriching learning experience. One essential aspect of this, besides the technical angle, is, in the crudest term, the “political” aspect. While IETF as a global technology community is bound to adapt the right technology for betterment of Internet, still there is a need for gaining community support to get people lending their ears and to get them convinced beyond the usual mailing list discussions and Working Group meetings. So connecting to the right people is important, especially for drafts coming out of relatively under-represented geographies like India. So building a strong Indian community which can judge the merits of drafts coming out of India and stretch support to appropriate ones in IETF may be useful for future. Also, people from academia need to come forward to support the cause and only with the help of the academia standardization can become an intellectual movement across India. The Government of India is also keen to support the cause with pragmatic view and, hopefully, involvement of GoI will definitely provide the necessary encouragement to both Indian industry and academia towards participating in Internet standardization and increasing India’s presence in the technology arena. There are several fellowships available now besides the fellowship provided by ISOC. There should more such fellowships from India and those should be publicized. This will help increase physical participation from India and eventually the day will not be far away when India will become an automatic choice to host IETF meetings.
Let me conclude with another saying of Swamiji: “The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong.” It is high time that India does not shy away from the world of technological innovation rather face it and make herself strong through the resulting interactions only to excel with the promise for a better India for the generations to come. Thus shall India be able to fulfill her “tryst with destiny”.
Abhijan Bhattacharyya is a Scientist in TCS Research, Kolkata, India.