William Jackson | Waiting for the killer app

Cybereye'commentary: IPv6 will become self-sustaining when its adoption is driven by the availability of apps that take advantage of its features<@VM>Sidebar: Are you using IPv6?

Cybereye columnist
William Jackson

GCN

IS IPV6 REACHING CRITICAL MASS? Probably not yet, but the recent decision by the European Commission to embrace the new version of the Internet protocols could help nudge it toward self-sustainability.

IPv6 will become self-sustaining when its adoption is driven by the availability of applications that take advantage of its features.

For now, policy remains the primary driver in the deployment of IPv6 networks as governments in the United States, Asia and Europe anticipate the inevitable exhaustion of IPv4 address space.

But as more IPv6 networks become available, more applications will be developed to use them.

Eventually the day will come when people say of some new killer app, 'I've got to have that.' Then no one will need to tell us to move to IPv6. We will begin demanding it.

This month, federal agencies should finish the first phase of a transition to IPv6, which requires network backbones to be capable of handling IPv6 traffic.

A variety of advanced education and research networks worldwide have been providing IPv6 test beds and production facilities for several years now. Government networks in the Asian Pacific region have led the way in using the protocols, and now Europe is encouraging their adoption by government, business and consumers.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, announced the policy in May in a communication to the European Parliament. It set a target of getting 25 percent of EU industry, public authorities and households to use IPv6 by 2010.

Neither the commission nor the parliament can enforce adoption of IPv6. 'There is no single authority to steer IPv6 introduction or to establish a coordinated master plan,' the communication states. 'Thus roll-out of IPv6 is largely a decentralised and market-driven process on a global scale.'

But the move could go a long way toward creating markets for new technologies, especially if it is successful in spurring the use of IPv6 by industry, households and governments.

What will the killer app for IPv6 be? It would be impossible to guess at this time.

There are many potential uses for the new protocols. In this country, the Defense Department began moving to IPv6 to get the myriad addresses, mobility and end-to-end connectivity it needs to implement network-centric warfare and support its logistics. Improved security and location-aware services have been touted as reasons to adopt. But in the end, killer apps tend to sneak up on us, offering a solution for a problem we didn't know we had.

No one guessed that e-mail would be the original driver for public adoption of the Internet or that within a few years e-mail would become pass', squeezed out by a whole new category of Internet-based fraud and marketing, and replaced by instant messaging.

And no one guessed that the World Wide Web would become a dominant retail outlet and make printed encyclopedias obsolete, or that CNN would be overshadowed by bloggers.

Somewhere out there is the idea for a seemingly trivial service or trick that can be performed via IPv6. As soon as there are enough endpoints to spur development, it will blossom into the killer app that will make the new protocols self-sustaining.
This month marks the deadline for agencies to make their network backbones capable of handling IPv6 traffic. The mandated implementation was accomplished in a short time with the yeoman service of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in developing standards and guidelines.

But this first step merely sets the stage for adoption. The basic capability must be available in the infrastructure, but there is no requirement yet for turning it on and using it.

Now comes the fun part. The backbone is ready, and most endpoints are running operating systems that support IPv6. Microsoft officials even claim that their Windows Vista prefers IPv6, and I believe them: The operating system certainly does not seem to like running IPv4 applications. So it is time to start taking advantage of the capabilities offered by IPv6 by running new applications and services on your networks.

I'd like to know how you are putting IPv6 to work. If your office, agency or department has found a way of using the protocols to provide new services or capabilities, drop me a line at wjackson@gcn.com and tell me about it. Please include your contact information.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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