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RFC 873 - Illusion of vendor support


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     < INC-PROJECT, MAP-ILLUSION.NLS.8, >, 12-Aug-83 11:44 AMW ;;;;

     RFC 873                                            September 1982
                                                                M82-49

                      THE ILLUSION OF VENDOR SUPPORT

                              M.A. PADLIPSKY
                           THE MITRE CORPORATION
                          Bedford, Massachusetts

                                 ABSTRACT

          The sometimes-held position that "vendor supplied"
     intercomputer networking protocols based upon the International
     Standards Organization's Reference Model for Open System
     Interconnection are worth waiting for, in particular in
     preference to protocols based upon the ARPANET Reference Model
     (ARM), is shown to be fallacious.

          The paper is a companion piece to M82-47, M82-48, M82-50,
     and M82-51.

                                     i

                      THE ILLUSION OF VENDOR SUPPORT

                              M. A. Padlipsky

     Introduction

          Even one or two members of the DoD Protocol Standards
     Technical Panel join with many others (including, apparently,
     some members of the DoD Protocol Standards Steering Group, and
     clearly, somebody at the GAO) in expressing a desire to "go with
     vendor-supported intercomputer networking protocols instead of
     using our own."  The author's view of the implications of this
     desire should be clear from the title of this paper.  What
     evidence, then, is there to so stigmatize what is clearly a
     well-meant desire to save the Government money?

     Scope

          First, we must consider what is meant by "vendor-supported
     protocols."  It can't be just X.25, because that only gets you
     through the network layer whether you're appealing to the
     International Standards Organization's widely-publicized
     Reference Model for Open System Interconnection (ISORM) or to the
     unfortunately rather tacit reference model (ARM) to which the
     ARPANET protocols (e.g., TCP, IP, Telnet, FTP) were designed.  It
     also can't be just X.25 and X.28/X.29 (even with X.75 tossed in
     to handle "internetting" and X.121 for addressing) because: 1.
     They don't serve as a protocol suite for resource sharing (also
     known as OSI), but rather only allow for remote access [1]. 2.
     They (coming as they do from the Consultative Committee on
     International Telegraphy and Telephony--and including one or two
     other protocols, in reality) don't even constitute the full
     protocol suite being worked on by the U. S. National Bureau of
     Standards, much less the somewhat different suite being evolved
     by ISO.  So it must be a suite from NBS or ISO, and for present
     purposes we needn't differentiate between them as their Reference
     Models are close enough to be shorthanded as the ISORM.

     Timeliness

          Realizing that we're being asked to consider an
     ISORM-related protocol suite as what the vendors are expected to
     support has one immediate consequence which in some sense can be
     considered to dominate all of the other points to be raised:
     That is, the DoD procurement process entails quite long lead
     times.  Yet the ISORM suite is by no means complete at present.
     Without prejudice to its

                                     1
     RFC 873                                            September 1982

     merits or demerits, only X.25 (as levels 1-3, and with some
     ambiguity as to what level X.75 belongs at) is as yet firmly in
     the ISORM suite (which it will be convenient to refer to as
     "ISORMS"), and there is even some doubt as to how firmly they're
     there.  (E.g., a British observer at a recent PSTP meeting
     assured the author that "We in the U.K. don't believe X.25 is
     officially part of the ISORM.") There are proposals which have
     been circulating for some time at Level 4, and less far along
     through the international (or even national, remembering NBS)
     standardization process, ones at Level(s) 5-7.  It must be noted
     that:  1.  These are by and large "paper protocols" (that is,
     they have not been subjected to the test of actual use).  2.
     Even ISO and NBS's warmest supporters acknowledge that the
     standardization process "takes years."  So if the DoD is to avoid
     buying what might turn out to be a series of pigs in a series of
     pokes, it can't wait for the ISORMS.

          On the other side of the coin, the DoD is letting
     intercomputer networking contracts right now.  And, right now,
     there does exist a suite of protocols designed to the ARPANET
     Reference Model (ARMS, with no pun intended).  Implementations of
     the ARMS already exist for a number of operating systems already
     in use in the DoD.  Now, it is not argued that the ARMS protocols
     come "for free" in upcoming acquisitions (contractors fuss about
     the style of the available specifications, system maintainers
     fear incursions of non-vendor supplied code into operating
     systems, and so on), but it is unarguable that the ARMS can be
     procured significantly more rapidly than the ISORMS.  (It is also
     unarguable that those who speak of their unwillingness to see the
     DoD "develop new protocols rather than employ international
     standards" haven't done their homework; we're not talking about
     new protocols in the ARMS, we're talking about protocols that
     have been in real use for years.)

     Quality of Support

          The timeliness argument can lead to a counterargument that
     the ISORMS is "worth waiting for," though, so we're not done yet.
     Let's look further at what "vendor support" means.  Clearly, the
     proponents of the position expect that vendors' implementations
     of protocols will be in conformance with the Standards for those
     protocols.  Given the nature of these specifications, though,
     what can we infer about the quality of support we can expect from
     the vendors?

          There are two problem areas immediately apparent:
     ambiguities and options.  Let's take ambiguities first.  The
     following are some of the questions raised by knowledgable
     observers about the present state of the ISORMS:

                                     2
     RFC 873                                            September 1982

          1.   Can an X.25 comm subnet offer alternate routing?  (The
               answer depends on whether "DCE's" are expected to
               follow X.25 between themselves.  The situation is
               further complicated by the fact that some ISORM
               advocates don't even include the Data Communication
               Elements in their depictions of the Model; this leads
               to the metaphorical question* "Are there parking
               garages between the highrises?")  If you can conform to
               X.25 and not offer alternate routing--which certainly
               appears to be consistent with the spec, and might even
               be construed as required by it--the DoD's inherent
               interest in "survivability" cannot be served by you.

          2.   Can an X.75 internet offer alternate gatewaying?  (The
               answer is almost surely no, unless the X.75 spec is
               re-written.)  If not, again the DoD's interest is not
               served.

          3.   Does "Expedited Data" have semantics with regard to the
               L4-L5/L7 interface?  (Not as I read the spec, by the
               way.) If not, the ISORMS lacks the ability to convey an
               "Out-of-Band-Signal" to an Application protocol.  (This
               leads to the metaphorical question, "What good is an
               SST if there's nobody on duty at the Customs Shed?")

          4.   Must all layers be traversed on each transmission?
               (There are rumors of a new ISORM "null-layer" concept;
               it's not in the last version I looked at, however, and
               apparently the answer is yes at present.)  If so, the
               DoD's inherent interest in efficiency/timeliness cannot
               be served.  (This leads to the metaphorical question,
               "Are there elevators inside the highrises, or just
               staircases?")

          5.   Can an implementation be in conformance with the ISORM
               and yet flout the prescription that "N-entities must
               communicate with each other by means of N-1 entities"?
               (Not as I read the spec.)  If not, again
               implementations must be inefficient, because the
               prescription represents an inappropriate legislation of
               implementation detail which can only lead to
               inefficient implementations.

     _______________
     *  This and other metaphorical questions are dealt with at
        greater length in reference [2].

                                     3
     RFC 873                                            September 1982

          6.   Is each layer one protocol or many?  (The point quoted
               in 5 would seem to imply the latter, but many ISORM
               advocates claim it's the former except for L1 and L7.)
               If each layer is a "monolith", the DoD's interest is
               not served because there are many circumstances in
               which applications of interest require different L1-3
               and L4 protocols in particular, and almost surely
               different L5 and L6 protocols.  (Areas of concern:
               Packetized Speech, Packet Radio, etc.)

          The upshot of these ambiguities (and we haven't exhausted
     the subject) is that different vendors could easily offer
     ISORMS's in good faith which didn't interoperate "off-the-shelf".
     Granted, they could almost certainly be fixed, but not cheaply.
     (It is also interesting to note that a recent ANSI X3T5 meeting
     decided to vote against acceptance of the ISORM as a
     standard--while endorsing it as valuable descriptively--because
     of that standards committee's realization of just the point we
     are making here:  that requiring contractual compliance with a
     Reference Model can only be desirable if the Reference Model were
     articulated with utter--and probably humanly
     unattainable--precision.)

          The area of options is also a source for concern over future
     interoperability of ISORMS implementations from different
     vendors. There's no need to go into detail because the broad
     concern borders on the obvious:  What happens when Vendor A's
     implementations rely on the presence of an optional feature that
     Vendor B's implementations don't choose to supply?  Somebody
     winds up paying--and it's unlikely to be either Vendor.

          On the other side of the coin, the ARMS designers were all
     colleagues who met together frequently to resolve ambiguities and
     refine optionality in common.  Not that the ARMS protocols are
     held to be flawless, but they're much further along than the
     ISORMS.

          To conclude this section, then, there are grounds to suspect
     that the quality of vendor support will be low unless the price
     of vendor support is high.

     Nature of the Design Process

          The advantage of having colleagues design protocols touched
     on above leads to another area which gives rise to concern over
     how valuable vendor-supported protocols really are.  Let's
     consider how international standards are arrived at:

                                     4
     RFC 873                                            September 1982

          The first problem has to do with just who participates in
     the international standardization process.  The author has
     occasionally chided two different acquaintances from NBS that
     they should do something about setting standards for membership
     on standards committees.  The uniform response is to the effect
     that "They are, after all, voluntary standard organizations, and
     we take what we're given."  Just how much significance is
     properly attached to this insight is problematical.  Even the
     line of argument that runs, "How can you expect those
     institutions which have votes to send their best technical people
     to a standards committee?  Those are precisely the people they
     want to keep at home, working away," while enticing, does not,
     after all, guarantee that standards committees will attract only
     less-competent technicians.  There are even a few Old Network
     Boys from the ARPANET involved with the ISORM, and at least one
     at NBS.  However, when it is realized that the rule that only
     active implementers of TCP were allowed on the design team even
     precluded the present author's attendance (one of the oldest of
     the Old Network Boys, and the coiner of the phrase, at that), it
     should be clear that the ARMS enjoys an almost automatic
     advantage when it comes to technical quality over the ISORMS,
     without even appealing to the acknowledged-by-most politicization
     of the international standards arena.

          What, though, of the NBS's independent effort?  They have
     access to the experienced designers who evolved the ARMS, don't
     they?  One would think so, but in actual practice the NBS's
     perception of the political necessities of their situation led
     one of their representatives at a PSTP (the Department of Defense
     Protocol Standards Technical Panel) meeting to reply to a
     reminder that one of the features of their proposed Transport
     Protocol was a recapitulation of an early ARPANET Horror Story
     and would consume inordinate amounts of CPU time on participating
     Hosts only with a statement that "the NBS Transport Protocol has
     to be acceptable as ECMA [the European Computer Manufacturer's
     Association] Class 4." And even though NBS went to one of the
     traditional ARPANET-related firms for most of their protocol
     proposals, curiously enough in all the Features Analyses the
     author has seen the features attributed to protocols in the ARMS
     are almost as likely to be misstated as not.

          The conclusion we should draw from all this is not that
     there's something wrong with the air in Gaithersburg, but rather
     that there's something bracing in the air that is exhaled by
     technical people whose different "home systems'" idiosyncracies
     lead naturally to an intellectual cross-fertilization, on the one
     hand, and a tacit agreement that "doing it right" takes
     precedence over "doing it expediently," on the other hand.  (If
     that sounds too corny, the reader should be aware that the author
     attended a large number of

                                     5
     RFC 873                                            September 1982

     ARPANET protocol design meetings even if he wasn't eligible for
     TCP: in order to clarify our Host-parochial biases, we screamed
     at each other a lot, but we got the job done.)

          One other aspect of the international standardization
     process has noteworthy unfortunate implications for the resultant
     designs: However one might feel on a technical level about the
     presence of at least seven layers (some seem to be undergoing
     mitosis and growing "sublayers"), this leads to a real problem at
     the organizational--psychological level.  For each layer gets its
     own committee, and each committee is vulnerable to Parkinson's
     Law, and each layer is in danger of becoming an expansionist
     fiefdom ....  If your protocol designers are, on the other hand,
     mainly working system programmers when they're at home--as they
     tend to be in the ARPANET--they are far less inclined to make
     their layers their careers.  And if experience is weighted
     heavily--as it usually was in the ARPANET--the same designers
     tend to be involved with all or most of the protocols in your
     suite.  This not only militates against empire building, it also
     minimizes misunderstandings over the interfaces between
     protocols.

     "Space-Time" Considerations

          At the risk of beating a downed horse, there's one other
     problem area with the belief that "Vendor supplied protocols will
     be worth waiting for" which really must be touched on.  Let's
     examine the likely motives of the Vendors with respect to
     "space-time" considerations.  That is, the system programmer
     designers of the ARMS were highly motivated to keep protocol
     implementations small and efficient in order to conserve the very
     resources they were trying to make sharable:  the Hosts' CPU
     cycles and memory locations.  Are Vendors similarly motivated?

          For some, the reminder that "IBM isn't in business to sell
     computers, it's in business to sell computer time" (and you can
     replace the company name with just about any one you want) should
     suffice.  Especially when you realize that it was the traditional
     answer to the neophyte programmer's query as to how come there
     were firms making good livings selling Sort-Merge utilities for
     System X when one came with the operating system (X = 7094 and
     the Operating system was IBSYS, to date the author).  But that's
     all somewhat "cynical", even if it's accurate.  Is there any
     evidence in today's world?

          Well, by their fruits shall you know them:  1.  The feature
     of the NBS Transport Protocol alluded to earlier was an every
     15-second "probe" of an open connection ("to be sure the other
     guy's still

                                     6
     RFC 873                                            September 1982

     there").  In the early days of the ARPANET, one Host elected to
     have its Host-Host protocol (popularly miscalled "NCP" but more
     accurately AH-HP, for ARPANET Host-Host Protocol) send an echo
     ("ECO") command to each other Host each minute.  The "Network
     Daemon" on Multics (the process which fielded AH-HP commands)
     found its bill tripled as a result.  The ECMA-desired protocol
     would generate four nuisance commands each minute--from every
     Host you're talking to!  (The "M", recall, is for
     Manufacturers.)*  2.  X.25 is meant to be a network interface.
     Even with all the ambiguities of the ISORM, one would think the
     "peer" of a "DTE" (Host) X.25 module (or "entity") would be a
     "DCE" (comm subnet processor) X.25 module. But you can also "talk
     to" at least the foreign DCE's X.25 and (one believes) even the
     foreign DTE's; indeed, it's hard to avoid it.  Why all these
     apparently extraneous transmissions?  CCITT is a body consisting
     of the representatives of "the PTT's"--European for State-owned
     communications monopolies. 3.  The ISORM legislates that
     "N-entities" must communicate through "N-1 entities."  Doesn't
     that make for the needless multiplication of N-1 entities?  Won't
     that require processing more state information than a closed (or
     even an open) subroutine call within level N?  Doesn't anybody
     there care about Host CPU cycles and memory consumption?

          Note particularly well that there is no need to attribute
     base motives to the designers of the ISORMS.  Whether they're
     doing all that sort of thing on purpose or not doesn't matter.
     What does matter is that their environment doesn't offer positive
     incentives to design efficient protocols, even if it doesn't
     offer positive disincentives.  (And just to anticipate a likely
     cheap shot, TCP checksums are necessary to satisfy the design
     goal of reliability; ECMA four pings a minute is[/was]
     unconscionable.)

     TANSTAAFL

          We're very near the end of our analysis.  Readers familiar
     with the above acronym might be tempted to stop now, though there
     are a few good points to come.  For the benefit of those who are
     not aware:  "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch."
     Achieving interoperability among vendor-supplied protocol
     interpreters won't come for free.  For that matter, what with all
     this "unbundling"

     ________________
     *  Rumor has it that the probes have since been withdrawn from
        the spec.  Bravo.  However, that they were ever in the spec is
        still extremely disquieting--and how long it took to get them
        out does not engender confidence that the ISORMS will be
        "tight" in the next few years.

                                     7
     RFC 873                                            September 1982

     stuff, who says even the incompatible ones come for free?  You
     might make up those costs by not having to pay your maintenance
     programmers to reinsert the ARMS into each new release of the
     operating system from the vendor, but not only don't good
     operating systems change all that often, but also you'll be
     paying out microseconds and memory cells at rates that can easily
     add up to ordering the next member up in the family.  In short,
     even if the lunch is free, the bread will be stale and the cheese
     will be moldy, more likely than not.  It's also the case that as
     operating systems have come to evolve, the "networking" code has
     less and less need to be inserted into the hardcore supervisor or
     equivalent.  That is, the necessary interprocess communication
     and process creation primitives tend to come with the system now,
     and device drivers/managers of the user's own devising can often
     be added as options rather than having to be built in, so the
     odds are good that it won't be at all hard to keep up with new
     releases anyway. Furthermore, it turns out that more and more
     vendors are supplying (or in process of becoming able to supply)
     TCP/IP anyway, so the whole issue of waiting for vendor support
     might well soon become moot.

     References

     [1]  Padlipsky, M. A., "The Elements of Networking Style",
          M81-41, The MITRE Corporation, October 1981, attempts to
          clarify the distinction between "remote access" and
          "resource sharing" as networking styles.

     [2]  ----------,  "A Perspective on the ARPANET Reference Model",
          M82-47, the MITRE Corporation, September 1982; also
          available in Proc. INFOCOM '83.

                                     8
 

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