ITU, IETF push dueling standards on MPLS features

The IETF says having two standards for troubleshooting tools might threaten the Internet's health

The Internet Engineering Task Force is slamming a decision by the International Telecommunication Union to pursue its own standard for troubleshooting and fault detection in service-provider networks.

The ITU agreed last Friday on first-stage approval of a standard for OAM (operations, administration and maintenance) in transport networks based on MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching). The IETF said this violated an agreement between the two groups and would lead to two separate technologies, possibly threatening the future health of the Internet.

MPLS lets carriers set up logical circuits across their IP (Internet Protocol) networks based on tags placed on IP packets. The protocol, developed by the IETF, can give priority to certain types of traffic and speed its transmission across the Internet. The OAM standard is intended to provide better tools for detecting transmission problems in MPLS networks, pinpointing where they are taking place and quickly resolving them.

Earlier in this decade, the ITU and IETF had both been developing OAM mechanisms but agreed to form a Joint Working Team to determine whether the new specification would be developed through the standards process of the ITU or of the IETF, said IETF Chair Russ Housley. The joint team determined in December 2008 that the new standard would come through the IETF, Housley said. He expects the IETF standard to be completed within six months.

The ITU said a standard was urgently needed and the IETF had not carried out some of the work it had promised to do. "In this case it was clear that a significant part of our membership could not accept any further delay," the ITU said in its statement. Housley said the IETF had made "steady, consistent progress" on the standards process.

"The only complaint that they're really making was that it took long," Housley said. "I'm not saying that either side is totally clean here. I'm just saying we had a[n] agreement."

The IETF said the ITU's decision to pursue its own standard will lead to separate, incompatible technologies being deployed by different vendors and operators. "This situation ensures that the two product groups will not work together," the IETF said in a statement along with the Internet Society. "While this impact may not be immediate, ongoing evolution along this path will jeopardize the globally connected Internet, which is an interoperable network of networks."

Industry analysts questioned the IETF's claim of danger to the Internet. Service providers need to connect to each other in order to provide services, and if they ask equipment vendors to support both standards, they will, said analyst Michael Howard of Infonetics Research. The carrier equipment industry has successfully dealt with other dual standards in the past, he said. In those cases, there were dual implementations until one of the standards eventually won out in the market, he said.

The IETF's Housley acknowledged that vendors could implement both standards. However, this would add cost and complexity to their products, which ultimately will affect the rates that subscribers pay, he said.

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Tags NetworkingtelecommunicationCarriersInternational Telecommunication UnionInternet Engineering Task Force

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