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A review of a decade of Internet Architecture Board workshops

4 Jun 2024

Internet Architecture Board (IAB) workshops are focused gatherings that bring together experts from the broader Internet community to discuss specific topics of interest related to Internet architecture, protocols, standards, and future directions.


During an IAB retreat, a discussion arose regarding the characteristics of a successful IAB workshop. The conversation focused on identifying key elements that contribute to a workshop's success, sharing stories of past workshops, exploring common challenges, and considering whether there are lessons or guidance that could benefit current or future IAB members. 

I took an action item to review the past IAB workshops to gather valuable insights. It was observed that some members of the IETF community are unclear about the purpose of the IAB workshops and their reports. Consequently, we decided to enrich our webpage and wiki with more detailed information about the IAB workshops to include details on various considerations for holding a workshop as well as a checklist for the workshop program committee. 

IAB workshops are distinct from one another, with each topic requiring some customization to ensure its impact. This sparked a conversation about what constitutes success factors for IAB workshops. Given the diverse nature, it would not be appropriate to assess impact based solely on simple quantitative metrics. Instead, it's more effective to adopt a holistic approach, considering various factors such as:

  • Did it spark discussions that might be challenging to engage in other venues?
  • Did the workshop have the right and diverse set of participants?
  • Were the scope and objective of the workshop clear to its participants?
  • How was the quality of paper submissions and talks?
  • How well was the workshop organized?
  • Did the workshop produce clear follow-up action items?
  • How was the engagement before and after the workshop?
  • What was the long-term impact on work in IETF/Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)?

Reviewing past IAB workshops, reading reports and blogs, and discussing with various workshop program committees was a revealing exercise. It was noteworthy that IAB workshops have played a key role in launching new standards work within the IETF, stimulating research initiatives at the IRTF and providing valuable insights and resources for the wider community. 

  • Initiation of New IETF Standards: Certain workshops have directly led to the proposal and development of new IETF standards work, addressing emerging needs and technological advancements (SUIT, NETCONF, LISP
  • Research Items for IRTF: Discussions and findings from some workshops have identified new areas of research, prompting the IRTF to establish research groups focused on these topics (RASPRG)
  • Creation of IAB Programs: to continue the discussions started at the workshop (E-Impact Program)
  • Clarity and Guidance: Workshops have provided essential insights and recommendations, helping to clarify complex issues for the community and guiding future actions and policies (M-TEN, Network Quality, STRINT, SEMI)
  • Community Engagement and Collaboration: By bringing together experts from diverse backgrounds, workshops have fostered a spirit of collaboration, leading to strengthened ties within the IETF/IRTF community (COVID-19, ESCAPE)

I wanted to highlight a few of them:

In 2021, Show me the numbers: Workshop on Analyzing IETF Data (AID) was held. The IETF as an international SDO hosts diverse data on the history, development, and current activities in the development and standardization of Internet protocols and its institutions. A large portion of this data is publicly available, yet this data is arguably underutilized as a tool to inform the work in the IETF and research on topics like Internet governance and trends in ICT standard-setting. The workshop studies how IETF data is currently used, to understand what insights can be drawn from that data, and to explore open questions about how that data may be further used in the future. The workshop was organized into two discussion parts with a hackathon activity in between. The BigBang project and sodestream had both been running for a few years when the workshop happened, and it demonstrated that there was broad enough interest, attracting people from outside those projects, that this led to the creation of a new RG (Research and Analysis of Standard-Setting Processes Proposed Research Group (rasprg)) in IRTF with the focus on research aspects aimed at informing the comprehension of standardization processes, policies and possibly providing tools with meaningful insights. They have identified various research directions and collaborating across disciplines. Related projects continue to be active in Hackathon events. It has been successful in getting new folks into IRTF/IETF. 

In 2016, Internet of Things Software Update Workshop (IoTSU) was held to foster a discussion on requirements, challenges, and solutions for bringing software and firmware updates to IoT devices. Various challenges such as implementation vulnerabilities, operational challenges, privacy concerns, and lack of incentives were cited. The workshop gathered various requirements and raised many questions such as the need for partial updates, size of updates, handling dependencies,  multiple device owners, data origin authentication, digital signatures, and minimizing downtime to name a few. The workshop ended with a strong agreement to have a standardized secure (authorized and authenticated) software update. The SUIT WG was chartered in 2017 with the explicit aim of meeting the requirements as gathered in the workshop.

In 2014, the IAB and W3C hosted a workshop on the topic of “Strengthening the Internet Against Pervasive Monitoring (STRINT)” that built on the IETF’s conclusion that pervasive monitoring represents an attack on the Internet (RFC 7258). The workshop managed to assemble 100 participants in London for two days to discuss how the technical community should react to Pervasive Monitoring and more generally how to strengthen the Internet in the face of such attacks.  The discussions covered issues of terminology, the role of user interfaces, classes of mitigation, some specific use cases, transition strategies (including opportunistic encryption), and more.  The workshop ended with a few high-level recommendations, that it is believed could be implemented and could help strengthen the Internet.  The workshop allowed for focused and sometimes difficult discussions to happen and provided insights and recommendations that were acted on with various efforts in IETF to enhance encryption for our protocols. 

An IAB workshop is a tool that can be employed to improve the overall understanding of technical issues facing the Internet, explore emerging technologies, and help advance the future direction of Internet architecture and standards. Do you have an idea for a workshop topic to address one of these kinds of issues? Feel free to reach out to individual IAB members or to start a discussion on potential ideas for future workshop topics.

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