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New Challenges for LACNOG After 10 Years of Success

09/10/2020

Created as a forum for the exchange of technical experiences after discussing the idea on a mailing list and during a meeting held in São Paulo (Brazil) in 2010, the Network Operators Forum (LACNOG) faces new challenges after becoming one of the leaders in the development of network operation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In celebration of its tenth anniversary, LACNOG organized a panel of founders during the LACNIC 34 – LACNOG 2020 event during which the Forum’s pioneers recalled anecdotes from its early days and discussed future prospects to strengthen the organization and networks across the region.

The panel was made up by Arturo Servín Ricardo Patara Nicolás Antoniello and Christian O’Flaherty, four of the founders of LACNOG, and special guest Ariel Weher. Carlos Martínez served as the moderator.

Change is the only constant. In his opening remarks, Martinez observed that LACNOG’s tenth anniversary was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the organization’s achievements. Ten years ago, it was difficult to imagine the Internet as we know it today: social media did not have the same impact it has today, videos were few and far between and often produced frustrating results, and bandwidth was quite limited.

Servín recalled that, in the beginning, before its first face-to-face event held in São Paulo in 2010, LACNOG was a simply a mailing list where very good technical discussions took place. Antoniello then added that LACNOG began to take shape as an annual meeting once its bylaws were approved during the San Pablo meeting. Thus, the organization achieved a level of maturity that led to co-locating its events with LACNIC in the second half of each year. “I believe that the LACNOG community in particular has evolved, we have evolved quite a bit as a community over the years,” said Antoniello.

According to Antoniello, the spirit of LACNOG is to have an environment where participants can exchange ideas without the fear of commenting on any issue or problem. “I will help someone today, someone will help me tomorrow. None of us is trained to solve every problem, so I think it is necessary and very positive for a regional community to have reached the place we are in today”, he added.

In Patara’s opinion, celebrating LACNOG’s 10th anniversary marks a historic event. He recalled that the list was created in 2007, after an email announcing a policy discussion list for the LACNIC region. The LACNOG list was a spin-off created because multiple technical issues were being discussed on the policy list. “The first message was posted to the LACNOG list on 12 December of 2007. Back then, members of the list were discussing route aggregation, as there had been concern about the topic for some time. At first the list was a timid space where only a few people participated, but the quality of the discussions was fantastic and therefore it started to grow,” Patara recalled.

O’Flaherty pointed out that LACNOG’s in-person meetings show that many things can only be agreed after face-to-face discussions. “In our case, it was clear that we needed to get to know each other, to meet at the same location.” He highlighted the role that LACNIC had played in attracting network operators and convincing organizations to hold the LACNOG event.

“Ten years later, it’s great to see that LACNOG is a well-organized group and that everything works. It’s very important that people get to know each other and share their experiences. Trust among network operators is essential,” he stressed.

Trust is the way to go. Ten years of operation bring new challenges. In this sense, O’Flaherty mentioned that healthy and collaborative interconnections require trust. “This is the regional forum, but it is important for people to get to know each other locally. Sometimes, because they are competitors or due to historic reasons, companies make it difficult for operators to trust each other at the national level. When we manage to create these groups of trust in each country, we can increase our impact and have a better effect than at the regional level. The closer the network, the more people collaborate and more opportunities appear,” said O’Flaherty.

Antoniello agreed with this idea and observed that Internet organizations, service providers and ISPs, need to understand this concept. “If there were no problems, we, the members of the technical community, wouldn’t have any work at all. All we’d have to do is configure the devices and that would be the end of it. However, things fail. In fact, sometimes we ourselves break them when trying to implement improvements and things go wrong. This trust which brings people to share and leads an organization’s decision-makers to allow their technical staff to share both the good and the bad can be learned,” said Antoniello.

Next, Weher commented that LACNOG is undergoing a process of reorganization with the presentation of its mission, vision and goals, changes that have to do with institutional matters. “An important topic we always discuss at LACNOG is that we want to be able to participate in the issues on which we are experts. Sometimes we make recommendations or prepare documents to keep people from other areas who probably don’t have our level of technical expertise from explaining how the Internet works. This is the rationale behind the goal,” Weher stressed.

Patara then added that LACNOG has grown from a small group to an internationally relevant community that has an important role. “We must continue to make LACNOG an environment that favors healthy discussions and problem-solving. In this sense, trust is essential. The fact that there is a community where people know and trust each other is important, as many problems can be solved when the right person is contacted.”

Diversity and accessibility. In Servín’s opinion, LACNOG has an important opportunity to incorporate racial, gender and age equality.

“I think we have done relatively well but, if we take a look at the panel of founders, we can see that we are all men. The first meeting was dominated by men; only little by little we have managed to incorporate women. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done.”

Servín advocated for greater gender diversity and female participation in the technical community. “I believe we must work on strengthening their participation, adding greater diversity and improving the work environment. For us (men) it is relatively simple to move about and get things done, but I asked others who are not in the same position and in their opinion these topics must be brought to the table and discussed,” he concluded.