Forum sets a timeline for Internet's next generation

U.S. enterprises need to begin planning now for the switch to the newest version of the Internet Protocols so that they will be able to take advantage of the applications expected to be available for IPv6 at the end of the decade, developers of the new protocols said.

'Products exist today for you to begin the deployment,' said Jim Bound, Hewlett-Packard Co. fellow and chairman of the North American IPv6 Task Force. 'I don't think there is a platform today that doesn't support IPv6.'

The Internet Protocols are the set of rules underlying the Internet, defining how computers and other devices communicate with each other. Most hardware and software today uses IPv4. the Internet community developed Version 6 during the 1990s, and its proponents say it now is ready for adoption.

Moving IPv6 out of the laboratories and test beds and into the real world was the subject of the U.S. IPv6 Summit hosted in Arlington, Va., this week by the IPv6 Forum.

'There is not much difference' between versions 4 and 6, said Latif Ladid, president of the IPv6 Forum. The main differences are the larger address space, which will allow more IP addresses to be assigned, and the ease of use provided by autoconfiguration.

'Everything else,' including added security and improved mobility, 'is frosting on the cake.'

Base networking products such as routers supporting IPv6 began coming to market in 2000, and many products now are in their third release of capability, Bound said. The Defense Department has announced its intention to move to IPv6, and requests for proposals and requirements definitions for the new technology are beginning to come from the telecommunications industry.

'It's all investigative now,' Bound said, and this phase is expected to last for the next three years.

What is missing are the applications that operate on and take advantage of the new protocols, and business cases for making the transition. 'IPv6 is plumbing,' Bound said'it is not visible and it does not make money.

But application development is beginning, and will reach fruition over the next three years, Bound predicted. 'By 2008 you will begin to see complete IPv6 networks.'

Ladid predicted that when 10 percent of the nation's infrastructure has been moved to the new protocol, it will reach a threshold that will drive much more rapid adoption.

That does not mean that IPv4 is going to disappear any time soon. Because of the long life of legacy hardware and software, dual-stack routers will continue to support both IP versions on the same network for a long time, said Rick Summerhill, associate director of backbone network infrastructure for Internet2, a high-performance research and education network established by a consortium of American universities.

The Internet2 backbone, named Abilene, is an OC-192c-over-Sonet network, with 11 routers across the country. It began implementing IPv6 for limited applications in 2001 by tunneling through the IPv4 infrastructure, because its routers at that time did not support the new protocols. It began migrating to native IPv6 on dual-stack routers by the end of that year. Today the entire network supports IPv6.

Bound said the move to the new protocols should include plans for mobile networking.

'Deploying network infrastructure for Mobile IPv6 must be a priority,' he said. 'Mobile IPv6 complicates everything. It makes it harder. But it is essential. If anything is a killer technology for IPv6, it is Mobile IPv6.'

With IPv6, mobile computing includes not just user devices such as notebook PCs and handhelds, but entire subnets. DOD will be able to use this capability to keep military units networked and in touch while on the move to theaters of operation and in remote deployments.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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