IETF selects first non-American leader

The Internet’s premier standards-setting body has selected its first non-American as its leader, in what is being hailed as a sign of the group’s increasing global participation.

Cisco Systems Inc. engineer Harald Alvestrand, a Norwegian, will take over the reins at the Internet Engineering Task Force in March, replacing long-time chair Fred Baker, also a Cisco employee.

“Harald is a particularly good choice for a number of reasons,” Baker says. “He’s a very clueful guy, and I respect him a lot. Also, the IETF is viewed in many parts of the world as this creation of the U.S., and having a chair that’s not from the U.S. is a good thing.”

Alvestrand has been an active participant in the IETF since the early 1990s. He authored or co-authored 21 IETF protocol documents – called Requests for Comments – primarily in the areas of messaging and internationalization. He is a former director of the IETF’s Applications Area as well as its Operations and Management Area and a current member of the IETF’s Internet Architecture Board (IAB).

A quiet but technically respected IETF participant, Alvestrand is best known for his efforts to get the Internet to support languages other than English.

“Harald actually cares about internationalization and has been very active on it,” says Paul Hoffman, an IETF participant and director of the Internet Mail Consortium.

Alvestrand is the fifth person to chair the IETF, which was founded in 1986. Mike Corrigan, a Department of Defense official, hosted only the group’s first meeting. The other three chairs – all pioneering Internet engineers – were Phil Gross, Paul Mockapetris and Baker, who held the post for five years.

Alvestrand says his biggest challenge will be “making sure that the technical work of the IETF can proceed at a pace that fits with the developments in the industry.” He also says it’s important that the IETF not allow disagreements with other standards bodies or governments to “create needless obstacles to the use of the Internet as a tool to further communications between people.”

While the IETF post will likely consume about half of his time, Alvestrand will continue serving as a consulting engineer for Cisco, coordinating research projects in the European community.

Baker says Cisco officials are pleased that one of their engineers has again been chosen as the new IETF chair. In addition to Baker, several other members of the IETF leadership work for Cisco including Applications Area Director Patrik Faltstrom and IAB member Steve Deering.

However, Baker says Cisco is not trying to control the IETF. “Cisco very much wants the IETF to be independent,” he says.

Alvestrand’s appointment was announced to the IETF’s mailing list Friday via e-mail. Alvestrand will assume his post at the IETF’s next meeting, scheduled for March 18-23 in Minneapolis.

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