It takes a lot of nurture to keep Europe’s Internet going, says RIPE NCC’s Axel Pawlik
Based in Amsterdam, the RIPE NCC co-ordinates the Internet for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. It is fair to say that its managing director, Axel Pawlik, loves his job.
He likes to see the Internet organising from the bottom up, and has been working on policy and governance since he started in the IT industry in the mid-80s, in a career which has included co-founding EUnet Germany, one of the very first German commercial ISPs.
Most surprisingly, in this fast changing industry, he is the first person we have featured here who is still working on the same technology as he was ten years ago…
The wonder of the Internet
What has been your favourite project so far?
The one I’m currently involved in, of course – the RIPE NCC!
We play a fascinating role in supporting the wonder that is the Internet. The RIPE NCC is one of five Regional Internet Registries around the world. We provide Internet resource allocations, registration services and coordination activities that support the operation of the Internet globally.
I like the variety of the work at the RIPE NCC and the challenges we face in the industry with self-regulation and Internet governance. One aspect I particularly enjoy is serving the Internet community at large.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Believe it or not, ten years ago I was actually working on IPv6 (Internet Protocol version six) development and deployment. Apparently I was a little ahead of the times, because I’m still working on it today!
It’s a long-term project, but one that is absolutely critical to the future growth of the Internet. Currently the Internet heavily relies on the older IPv4 protocol, which only allows for 4.3 billion IP addresses. That seemed like a lot when IPv4 was created in the 70s, but the exponential growth of Internet-connected devices means we’re now running out of addresses. IPv6 allows for more than 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses. So chances are we’re not going to run out of those anytime soon.
More importantly, it means there are enough addresses that anything can be connected to the Internet. Instead of being held back by technology, our only limitation will be our own imaginations.
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
Technology is already a part of everything we do, even though it is becoming smaller itself. In a decade I hope that the advances in technology mean it will have blended seamlessly into the background fabric of our lives.
Who’s your tech hero?
I have three tech heroes: Richard Stallman, the software freedom activist, Linus Torvalds, the Linux and software engineer, and Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web.
Who’s your tech villain?
Nobody’s perfect and I think there is a bit of hero and villain in everyone – it depends on your perspective. Everybody deserves a chance…
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – or as it’s more commonly called, the smartphone.
It opens up a whole new world of adventure because now people can access and share information anywhere. If you find yourself in a new city, you can explore by searching for tips from locals. If you’re running late for a meeting you can look up your route and get real-time transportation information.
I travel a lot and my smartphone is invaluable for me – I can quickly and easily keep in touch with friends and family, and also stay on top of work.
What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
The RIPE NCC is a membership organisation, so our budget depends on our members and can change from year to year, depending on their needs and wishes. I’m grateful for our members’ financial support and for a budget that reflects their needs.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
I love companies that innovate, and Apple is up there with some of the best. Ten years ago no one would have thought that it would be where it is now. Its turnaround since 2002 has been truly impressive and it played a big role in bringing smartphones into the mainstream.
I’m also a fan of FormFormFrom, the makers of Sugru, which is an incredible substance – basically self-setting rubber which can be used in a billion different ways. Very clever and very useful.
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
From my point of view, it’s convincing the powers that be that IPv6 deployment is crucial. IT managers know there is a need to upgrade, but they face battles with the people ultimately responsible for holding the purse strings.
It also doesn’t help that there are ISPs who have not fully deployed IPv6 yet, because it doesn’t set a good example! In the future it’s going to become a more pressing issue. If companies don’t adopt IPv6, they could find that they are cut off from portions of the Internet, because IPv4 and IPv6 don’t speak the same language.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
It depends entirely on what your needs are.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
When I was younger I really wanted to be a vet, and I still love animals of all shapes and sizes. But my future changed the day I got my hands on a TRS-80. Some of you will be too young to remember it, but it was a desktop microcomputer. It sparked my lifelong love of technology and since that day I knew I wanted to work in tech.
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