The Internet needs an upgrade.
That’s the stance of companies, organizations and government entities promoting the development and roll-out of Internet Protocol version 6, usually referred to by the shorthand IPv6
For those not familiar, IPv6 is the next generation, network layer Internet protocol, officially defined
in December, 1998 by the Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF) Network Working Group. Probably the most often discussed benefit of IPv6 is that it greatly expands the number of Internet addresses available by introducing a more flexible addressing system. This is important because the world is running out of Internet addresses.
Gradually, network equipment around the globe is being upgraded from IPv4 to IPv6. Proponents of the new technology tout IPv6’s benefits beyond address expansion — such as improved security, and better quality of service (QoS
“IPv4 is more than 20 years old and it can’t meet the long-term requirements of the industry,” said Cody Christman (News
), director of product engineering at NTT America
, during a conversation with TMCnet. “A lot of the things we try to do with IPv4 today were not envisioned when it was created; many features have been afterthoughts. Most of those features have been built into IPv6.”
Moving Toward IPv6
In addition to what he called “nearly infinite address space,” Christman told TMCnet that IPv6’s benefits include built-in Internet Security (IPsec), extension headers that allow the addition of more features in the future as uses for the Internet continue to evolve, and better support (through auto-configuration) for all types of plug-and-play devices.
Addressing the Address Problem
Expansion of available addresses is a big part of why IPv6 is so much better than IPv4. That’s because, to avoid running out of addresses in the IPv4 world, a technique known as Network Address Translation (NAT
) must be used. This a kludge that only temporarily solves the problem of address exhaustion.
“NAT, which has been widely deployed, has broken the end-to-end model of the Internet,” Christman told TMCnet. “IPv6 is designed to bring that back.”
He added that there is a global push by Internet address organizations toward IPv6 because of impending address exhaustion. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
(IANA) is the global body that allocates blocks of IP
space to regional Internet registries (RIRs). Last year, both the U.S. RIR (American Registry for Internet Numbers
, or ARIN) and the European RIR (RIPE
) warned that IPv6 needs to be adopted now because addresses in the IPv4 space are rapidly running out.
These organizations said that only about 16 percent of IPv4 address space remains to be allocated, and what does remain will be depleted by 2011.
In solving the address problem, IPv6 also creates a more efficient and more secure Internet.
“IPv6 makes it relatively easy to create peer-to-peer secure networking communications,” Christman said. “Plus, mandated support for IPsec with IPv6 allows for the authentication and encryption of traffic.”
Defragging for QoS
When it comes to IPv6, address expansion, security, routing efficiency and quality of service (QoS) are all interconnected.
“There is no fragmentation in IPv6,” Christman noted. “The protocol is smart enough to find out what the least common denominator for different networks that packets are transiting. Packet size is made no bigger than the minimum transfer size so packets aren’t fragmented by routers. This simplifies network architecture and makes packet routing more efficient.”
He also told TMCnet that IPv6 introduces a flow label to make networking even more efficient.
“For the first time at Layer 3, the IP layer, intelligent routers and applications can determine a flow of IP packets,” Christman said. “This results in great potential for improved QoS.”
Migration and Mandates
Migration to IPv6 has been a slow process, but it is being accelerated by concerns about address depletion and also by mandates. The U.S. Office of Management, for example, in 2005 required that by the end of June, 2008, all Federal agencies enable core networks to handle IPv6 traffic.
On July 1, the OMB reported
that all “scorecard departments and agencies” met the deadline, demonstrating IPv6 capability at the end of June.
Christman called meeting this deadline an important first step toward adoption of IPv6. Currently, there is a flurry of activity focused on completing upgrades. Once that’s done, he predicted that government agencies, enterprises and service providers will begin to take a closer look at IPv6 and what it can do.
“There will be more and more focus on innovative applications based on IPv6 that make use of the protocol’s unique benefits,” Christman said. “Once the migration is done we can get down to business.”
He noted that, among government agencies, the Department of Defense has led the way when it comes to promoting the benefits of IPv6 beyond merely forestalling address exhaustion.
“The DoD has a vision of the networked soldier and the global information grid,” he said. “They want to use IPv6 to gain a competitive advantage in the battlefield.”
NTT, Ahead of the Curve
NTT America, Christman told TMCnet, is a leader in the IPv6 industry. It has offered IPv6 transit services since 2003, and has more than 12 years of experience developing and deploying IPv6 solutions. That experience is sought after by organizations like the EU’s Information Society and Media Directorate General, as evidenced by the company’s participation in European IPv6 Day.
At the event, Christman demonstrated an earthquake early warning system in Japan that makes use of IPv6 — an example of a real-world application that is operational today.
“We’re always willing to share our experience and to promoting innovative applications and real-world examples of tools using IPv6,” Christman concluded.
Mae Kowalke is senior editor for TMCnet, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies. To read more of Mae’s articles, please visit her columnist page. She also blogs for TMCnet here.