IPv6 passes first test on applications

InterOperability Lab encounters a few glitches, but programs mostly worked

PUTTING IPV6 THROUGH ITS PACES: Companies put aside their differences to ensure interoperability among their products at the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Lab in Durham, N.H.

Photos courtesy of the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab

TESTING IPV6 PERFORMANCE: InterOperability Laboratory engineer David Woolf measures the performance of network equipment.

Photos courtesy of the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab

In the first large-scale test of basic enterprise networking with IPv6, applications using the next-generation IP in real-world conditions passed muster.
Until recently, most of the attention on IPv6 has concentrated on the network backbone, but this summer's tests at the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Laboratory (IOL) focused instead on applications.

'We've hit the core, but we've only scratched the surface of IPv6 for enterprise [information technology] systems,' said Erica Johnson, IPv6 consortium manager at IOL. 'As we keep seeing, there are always going to be implementation hurdles, lessons learned, proprietary applications and devices that don't support IPv6 yet, so the more testing, the sooner, the better.'

Applications for collaboration, file creation, sharing and printing worked, but there were a few bumps.

'Most issues were implementations, not the protocols, and this suggests that for system admins there may be something of a learning curve in setting up IPv6,' Johnson said. When setting up services, 'there was a distinct difference between IPv4 and IPv6.'

On the other hand, once implemented, the IPv6 network is easier to administer than current IPv4 networks. A key takeaway from the program was that the need for training 'is likely to be a [human resources] issue in bringing IPv6 to the office.'

IOL provides third-party standards conformance and interoperability testing for 200 member companies that fund operation of the 32,000-square-foot facility and provide its $20 million test bed.

A major part of that test bed is the Moonv6 network, a joint project of the university, the North American IPv6 Task Force, Internet2 and the federal government.

Established in 2003 and billed as the world's largest permanently deployed multivendor IPv6 network, the Moonv6 backbone runs from New Hampshire to California with links to Europe and Asia.

IPv6 is the latest version of the IP and is set to begin replacing the current IPv4 infrastructure on government backbones next year.

In addition to providing a much larger IP address space, which will accommodate the rapidly growing number of networked devices worldwide and a host of new applications, it also offers improved security and advanced networking functions, such as automatic discovery and configuration, which could help enable peer-to-peer, mobile and ad hoc networks.

Most operating systems and many applications support IPv6, but most
of the attention so far has been on network plumbing rather than the applications riding on those networks.

'Talking to our engineers, we found a gap in IPv6 testing for office applications,' Johnson said.

The tests to begin filling that gap were conducted in June. Participants providing applications included Adobe Systems, Alcatel-Lucent, Command Information, Counterpath, Hewlett-Packard, Hexago, Ixia, Juniper, Konica-Minolta, Microsoft and Xerox.

The applications all support IPv6, but there was little experience with operating them in real-world, multivendor enterprise environments with dual-stack and native IPv6 networks.

'The office applications worked,' Johnson said. Despite the implementation issues, 'the underlying network worked as expected.'

An example of the implementation problems was Web service discovery by servers detecting devices that were part of the Advanced Incident Response System, or AIRS.
'It was supposed to be automatic,' but a piece was missing, said Dave Green, vice president of research and development at Command Information.

AIRS is a collaborative project of Command Information, Cisco Systems, Arch Rock and pTerex. The system is intended to provide real-time health and environmental monitoring and tracking for first responders using portable devices on ad hoc IPv6 networks.

Ad hoc monitoring

Sensors worn by firefighters will monitor vital signs and track their positions as other sensors monitor temperature, carbon dioxide concentrations and other conditions inside buildings, sending information back to smart cell phones or other handheld devices running the AIRS applications.

IPv6 peer-to-peer and discovery capabilities will let devices from different agencies automatically join the network and work together.

'IPv6 networks have autoconfiguration ' and that's great, but it doesn't do a thing for the applications,' Green said. So AIRS uses Zero Configuration, a set of techniques for assigning network addresses, name resolution and service discovery for applications and devices on IP networks.

Before the IOL testing, the software had been tested only on Command Info's local IPv6 network and via a link with a partner.

Testing via Moonv6 revealed the problems with autodiscovery.

AIRS now is in prototype, and Green said it probably would be ready for field testing in six to 12 months. 'We know how to do everything,' and it now is a matter of packaging and hardening the system, he said. Small-scale tests are necessary in development, but testing on larger, distributed networks is needed to show practical results. 'IPv6 is not basic research anymore. We need some applied research in how to do it.'

As part of this summer's testing program, the lab also partnered with the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland to test Site Multihoming by IPv6 Intermediation, or SHIM6.

This is a failover function to reroute connections when links fail or encounter excessive congestion. By dynamically handing off to another service provider, it can maintain mission-critical functions such as financial transactions without interruption.

'IOL has shown that SHIM6 works,' Johnson said. 'We downloaded a movie and cut the link.' The download was switched to a new provider with a one-second delay and no data loss, she said.

The application tests by no means mark the end of the IPv6 testing process. Although networks will continue to run IPv4 for the foreseeable future, uncounted commercial and proprietary applications eventually will be using IPv6 and will have to be tested.

'We have not seen an e-mail application in the lab yet,' Johnson said. 'We need to push' to get them into the lab for testing.

Testing takes on greater importance because a large group of IPv6 networks are scheduled to begin coming online during the next 10 months.

The federal mandate to enable IPv6 on agency backbones by June 2008 is spurring adoption of the protocols in the private sector, too, said Chris Volpe, communications coordinator at IOL.

'We are seeing more urgency around IPv6,' Volpe said. 'The federal agencies have been busy ramping up to IPv6, but it is becoming more mainstream as well. The rings are widening.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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