ATM Forum: friend or foe?

I want to applaud the ATM Forum, but I just can’t.

For years it has been fighting the good fight to establish ATM as the technology of choice for multiservice networks. During that time, detractors have complained that the group’s work was flawed or politically driven by vendor members with their own agendas. Naysayers said the group complicated ATM by coming out with so many specifications and directives that vendors and users had no idea what to implement.

But the forum stuck by its guns and reined itself in by announcing the Anchorage Accord in 1996, which set a baseline for future ATM technology development.

Now the group has astutely embraced IP. George Dobrowski, president of the ATM Forum, recently said the forum is helping to define a range of technologies to help IP and ATM better work together (“ATM angles for IP edge,” NWC, March 12, 1999, page 10).

One of the biggest things the forum is doing is working with the Internet Engineering Task Force to ensure that developing IP standards will work well with ATM standards. This all sounds well and good, but the group lives in la-la land.

Its meetings are still closed-door — if you’re not a member, you won’t hear about the activities at ATM Forum meetings until weeks after, if at all. And the group’s marketing arm seems non-existent at a time when it should be at its most active.

The press is barred from going anywhere near most meeting sites. And even when we are invited to special press events at such meetings, as we were recently in Atlanta, reporters are kept well away from actual sessions. Lord knows what we might do if we were actually allowed to attend. Would work stop and the world come to an end?

Gut check, folks: The forum invited some 40 journalists to the Atlanta event, and three showed up.

Perception or circumstantial evidence can be a powerful force (ask Bill Clinton). The perception about the Forum is that it is still a closed membership doing some sort of secret work that few people care about. The Forum needs to change that perception.

Michael Cooney is associate news editor of Network World (US).