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IPv6: The Next Generation Internet
April 1, 2007
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Find Out MoreInternet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is designated as the successor to IPv4 (the current version of the internet). Some expect the new version—which could potentially provide billions more IP addresses per person—to completely change the way we communicate with each other, others are making more conservative predictions. Either way, two major internet users are well on their way to transitioning their networks to IPv6, the US government has specified that the network backbones of all federal agencies must deploy IPv6 by 2008, and China, meanwhile, is planning on implementing IPv6 for their Next Generation Internet due to be showcased at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Proving once more to be a valuable medium for industry thought leaders to present views and opinions, Xtalks held a web presentation on IPv6 in February this year. At the web conference, Peter Tseronis, Co-chair of the Federal IPv6 working Group, discussed how federal agencies are gearing up for the transition and what it means for communications, the internet and IT professionals.

In August 2005 Tseronis received a memo from the executive office of the President explaining that federal agencies needed to begin transition planning for the introduction of IPv6. “While I consider myself a knowledgeable IT person I had always seen the internet as just the internet,” admits Tseronis, “IPv6 was simply not something on my radar.” Eighteen months later and many federal agencies are well on the road to some early successes. But the June 2008 deadline won't signify an end to the IPv6 transition process, “metaphorically speaking if Y2K was a 100 meter dash at the Olympics, IPv6 is the marathon,” says Tseronis. The June, 2008 deadline is “phase one of a master project.” Many of the milestones so far have been facilitated by the internal federal IPv6 working group and it's subcommittee, broken out into a standards group, a security group, an addressing group and most recently a training group.

The main improvement presented by IPv6 revolves around the increased number of addresses. The finite number of addresses under the current system—IPv4 supports 232 or roughly 4.3 billion addresses—are, under some estimates, predicted to run out by 2011. This despite the wide scale deployment of networks address translation (NAT). IPv6 supports 2128 addresses, approximately 5x1028 address for each of the 6.5 billion people on the planet today. This means, for example, that every mobile phone or mobile device could have its own IP address allowing much better global communications and simplifying mobility. Therefore IPv6 is seen as a solution to help extend the life of the internet and help improve communications.

When IPv4 address space runs out, the current internet community will not be able to expand or add new applications, while the newest members of the internet will be standardized on IPv6.

So while IPv6 adoption is primarily driven by address space exhaustion there are other things to consider. Principally, the fact that the current Internet community will not be able to talk to the future internet community, which, says Tseronis, will splinter the internet into two. It's expected that IPv4 will be supported alongside IPv6 for the foreseeable future but IPv4 only users could be left out in the cold. Fortunately most transport and application-layer protocols need little or no change for them to work on IPv6. Applications however, and protocols that embed network-layer addresses, like FTP, may require small changes in order for them to run over IPv6.

Proponents of IPv6 would list a number of other advantages including, plug and play auto-configuration, enhanced quality of service, improved network efficiency, more multimedia services and end-to-end enabled security. “I have folks on my team some of whom can't wait to get their hands on IPv6 while others are ingrained in IPv4 and don't see the need for it,” says Tseronis.

IPv6 is not a panacea for security, says Tseronis, poorly designed applications and misconfigured servers will decrease security regardless of the new protocol. However the prospect of clear communication between end points, and fewer devices to go through, is an exciting prospect. “We need strong designs to leverage the potential of IPv6,” he says.

IPv6 has it's naysayers, so far commercial adoption has been slow. But according to Tseronis, support from the industry is emerging. Microsoft has already made claims about IPv6 and how its Vista application has it built in and other vendors are developing software applications with Ipv6 enabled by default. “We're all waiting for that killer application that will really sell it to us.”

Useful Links
The IPv6 Forum world-wide consortium of internet vendors, industry subject matter experts, research & education networks, with a mission to advocate IPv6 by improving user and industry awareness of IPv6.
The North American IPv6 Task Force 

a sub-chapter of the IPv6 Forum dedicated to the advancement and propagation of IPv6 in the North American continent.

In the end the costs of not going with IPv6 could outweigh the benefits. Tseronis lists a number of factors that organisations should consider such as, the threat from IPv6 ready hackers versus network security administrators who are unprepared for the new protocol, and a greater financial burden resulting from ongoing renumbering, loss of global visibility and longer deployment cycles. For Tseronis the benefits of early adoption for his organization includes the opportunity to innovate and explore new solutions that only IPv6 can offer. “Staying on IPv4 may stymie our ability to think outside the box,” he says.

As for tips for transitioning to IPv6, Tseronis comments: “IPv6 will be successful only if the enterprise architecture folks are sitting at the same table discussing the future with the operations folks...because, let's face it sometimes it doesn't happen that way, agencies are so large that nobody knows who's on the enterprise architecture team and who's running the network. And IPv6 is something that requires full participation stakeholder involvement from these two specific parties not to mention the folks from security administration and acquisition, it really touches a number of different groups.”

According to Tseronis: “Leveraging IPv6 allows the creative juices to flow.” The issues of leveraging technology to do things more quickly, efficiently and effectively is at the heart of IPv6 deployment. So perhaps its worth pondering what IPv6 makes possible and in what ways your organization will need to communicate in the future. Being well prepared is always a good thing, so thinking about where your network needs to be in 3 to 5 years time may very well involve a discussion about IPv6 and how it fits into the IT investment portfolio.

For more information on the Federal IPv6 Working Group go to http://www.egov.gov/

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