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Briton appointed chair of IETF

Brian Carpenter, an IBM distinguished engineer, will run the Internet standards body for at least the next two years
Written by Jonathan Bennett, Contributor

The Internet Society has announced that Brian Carpenter has been appointed the next chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the body responsible for most of the standards that the Internet is built upon.

Carpenter will also be chair of the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), which oversees the management of the standards process. He officially takes over during the next week's IETF meeting, held in Minneapolis.

Carpenter is aware that he won't have an easy time in the post. "I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's pretty daunting -- there's a lot to do -- but I'm certainly looking forward to it" he told ZDNet UK.

At present, Carpenter, originally from Leicester, holds the rank of distinguished engineer at IBM and has spent most of his time at its Hursley Laboratory near Winchester. Before joining IBM, he worked alongside Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, for 20 years and helped pioneer advanced Internet applications during the development of the World Wide Web.

"There's a lot going on in the IETF at the moment," commented Carpenter. "The challenge we have is to make sure that things only get better. Because of the complexity of the standards-making environment, and a lot of other bodies involved, there's a lot of scope for mistakes and overlaps and we have to make sure that doesn't happen."

Carpenter has been working with the IETF for many years, and was heavily involved in the development of IPv6, the next-generation Internet Protocol that's currently being rolled out by some telcos and businesses. He sees this as one of the most important issues during his time as chair. "IPv6 is a real necessity. The challenge there is no longer one of getting the standards done, it's the progressive deployment of IPv6". However, he doesn't see the need to rush. "It's not something that has to be done this week or next week, but it has to be done in order to be ready for the next 10 or 20 years," said Carpenter.

The IETF does face some challenges with a growing Internet, particularly the rise of electronic crime, but Carpenter warns that technology alone can't solve all of them. "Some of the problems that people see are much more problems of society. When printing was invented, people found ways of misusing printing". That doesn't mean the IETF is intending to do nothing. "We can take some technical measures to make it harder to be deceptive, but nobody has ever stopped people producing deceptive printed documents."

Carpenter believes that one of the IETF's strengths is its approach to developing standards. "The IETF is completely open, and no-one is ever told you can't talk to us because you haven't paid the fees. We have established working practices, and that can be difficult for an outsider, because they have to learn how the place works. But any human being who has email can join the IETF," he commented.

Carpenter can stand for reappointment once his two years are up, or he may return to IBM to continue his research work. If he does return, he's unsure what he'll be working on. "I don't expect people to be keeping my chair warm for the next two years," he added.

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