What happens when you equip your Paris hotel with a sketchy network for guests and then pack the place with hundreds of the engineers building the next generation of the Internet?
They fix the network for you.
Hundreds of Internet gurus began gathering at the Hotel Concorde Lafayette last Sunday for the 83 rd meeting and conference of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which sets many of the standards of behavior for servers, routers, applications and other components of the Internet.
Most guests might complain that the view of the Champs-Elysee isn't as picturesque as they imagined, that the sheets are insufficiently silky or that love does not automatically come to those who visit Paris in the Spring.
Guests from IETF, most of whom work as high-level new-product developers and engineers at top technology companies, complained the Wi-Fi network was flaky and deteriorating as more power-using guests arrived.
Connections were slow, packets were dropped, ports that would allow instant messaging, Skype, VPNs and other services were blocked completely.
For geeks of this magnitude, il est intolérable .
One attendee taped a smartphone to the ceiling of the bathroom, tethered it to a PC with Bluetooth and use dit as a hub to connect the room to the Internet.
Jury rigs that shaky weren't good enough for the whole crowd, however.
So the IETF gurus, experienced in voluntary, open-source technology development projects, applied the same process to the hotel's Wi-Fi network.
The result? An impromptu cooperative fix-it effort Network World reporter John Cox calls an Extreme Wi-Fi Makeover.
They sent a deputation to talk the hotel into letting guests – in this case guests who may have written the networking code that allowed the hotel's Wi-Fi access points to operate – to reconfigure things a little.
They hacked the hotel's network-management apps, changed the power levels and channels of amny of the access points, unplugged IP ports and turned many access points off entirely to reduce the amount of radio interference.
"[M]y network connectivity all of a sudden got a whooooole lot better," according to a late-night email from Cisco's James Polk to the fix-it team.
Like most open-source projects (or anything involving a network of any kind) the first round of repairs didn't fix everything. Just being in France complicated some issues; others required "radical" changes later in the week and even more tinkering later on, Cox reported.
The story becomes useful by showing how the IETF crew trouble-shot problems of the kind that are common in many wireless networks that have not been designed and performance-tuned by people who taught Wi-Fi products how to talk to each other in the first place.
It's funny because of the tenor, timing and context of many of the complaints and due to the image of a French luxury hotel and its formal-mannered, professionally trained service staff overwhelmed by an invasion of geeks who don't care nearly as much where to find the oyster fork on the table as they do about why latency and packet loss increase the closer they get to dinner.