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IETF douses IPv4

At the Internet Engineering Task Force's 71st meeting, held in Philadelphia last week, the organizers temporarily pulled the plug on all Internet access at the event. The organizers then offered wireless Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6)-only access for a few hours.

The IETF wanted to show the engineers in attendance, as well as the rest of the world, that accessing the Internet by IPv6 was possible.

The idea behind the temporary switchover was simply to see what problems would come up, as well as a way for participants to take a look at what the IPv6 Internet looked like, said project coordinator Leslie Daigle, who is the chief Internet technology officer for the Internet Society.

"We need more shared data and shared experience and, frankly, less fear uncertainty and doubt," she said. "This is an opportunity to play."

The results? Pretty good. About 100 folks got connected through IPv6 wireless access point, and traveled out onto the IPv6 Internet, even if there wasn't all that much to see yet.

This experiment, of course, should interest network administrators and managers within the federal government, not the least because the Office of Management and Budget mandates that agencies have their network backbones IPv6 ready by the end of June.

The switchover took place during Wednesday evening's administrative plenary, held in the large ballroom of the downtown Philadelphia Marriott.

Throughout the week, the IETF blanketed the working group meeting rooms with high-speed WiFi-based Internet access. During this meeting, however, the organizers cut off the IPv4 access and provided IPv6-only access through a 100 Gbps IPv6 backbone. The organizers also set up a site that offered instructions for participants on how to set up their computers for IPv6 communications.

Just before the trial got underway, Daigle polled the audience to find out how prepared they were. Despite the relatively few number of participants who previously used IPv6 in their jobs, about half nonetheless felt that preparing for IPv6 was relatively painless, even if they did encounter a few glitches.

While users of Microsoft Windows Vista and Linux were ready for IPv6 access, those with Windows XP experienced problems. While XP supported IPv6, its Domain Name Service client could not work with the protocol. Someone came up with the idea to download a copy of BIND, so domain names could be looked up locally. This required a last-minute patch to the software, which BIND developer Mark Andrews contributed just an hour before the switchover.

While there were many Apple laptop users in the audience, another problem came up with Macintosh OS X, which could not do Dynamic Host Control Protocol under version 6 (DHCP). DHCP is protocol for assigning out numbers on a network. Though one presenter at the event , Morgan Sackett of VP of Engineering of VeriLAN Event Services noted that IPv6, with the copious amount of addresses it would provide, should eliminate the need for DHCP altogether.

While operating systems and network gear seem to be ready for an IPv6 transition, the World Wide Web seems less prepared. Communicating only by IPv6 means that you could communicate only those Web servers prepared to respond in IPv6. Most Internet sites'even those from vendors of IPv6-ready networking gear--do not accept IPv6 packets.

Nonetheless, there were a few places to visit, such as search page posted by Google that would only accept IPv6 connections. But this experiment showed that even if the technology is ready, for the most part anyway, convincing Web administrators to hop aboard will be another challenge altogether.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Mar 19, 2008 at 9:39 AM


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