Bechtel put Vista’s IPv6 stack on trial

Implementation seen as stronger than one for Windows XP


Bechtel has been testing Vista’s IPv6 capabilities since January and so far likes what it sees. In fact, the engineering services giant plans to mandate the operating system for all new computer purchases by the end of the year.

Bechtel has been testing Vista’s IPv6 capabilities since January and so far likes what it sees. In fact, the engineering-services giant plans to require the operating system for all new computer purchases by the end of the year.

“When you have a fundamental change like IPv6, it’s not something you can do overnight,” says Fred Wettling, manager of IT standards and strategies for Bechtel. “Forklift upgrades are not a good thing. We need to make this [transition to IPv6] gradual.”

Read more on the challenges of rolling out IPv6 in Vista

Bechtel began its migration to IPv6 in 2004, when it sent about three dozen network engineers to a weeklong IPv6 training course. A few months later, Bechtel set up four IPv6 labs across the country where its network engineers can test hardware and software for IPv6 support. For the last 18 months, Bechtel has included IPv6 compatibility in its regular application-development and quality-assurance processes.

Today, more than 9,800 of the 18,000 computers on Bechtel’s network run IPv6, and a third of its routers support the new protocol. By year’s end, Bechtel expects that 70% of its computers and 50% of its routers will run IPv6.

Currently, Bechtel supports IPv6 using Windows XP Service Pack 2. Wettling sees several advantages to the Vista implementation of IPv6.

“It’s a single stack rather than the approach with XP, where IPv6 was bolted on,” Wettling says. “It also supports peer-to-peer communications in Vista, which is really, really important to Bechtel.”

One benefit of Vista’s IPv6 implementation for Bechtel is the Peer Name Resolution Protocol (PNRP), a Microsoft-developed and patented technology that enables host computers to publish the names and IP addresses of peer computers. PNRP 2.0 comes bundled with Vista, but it was available as an add-on for Windows XP.

PNRP “is really, really important to Bechtel,” Wettling says. “You can imagine a job site, such as a refinery, where the first 30 days there’s not a network connection. How do you communicate? If we have PNRP, we can do peer-to-peer discovery of nearby hosts in either wired or wireless connections. It’s really attractive, and the good news is that it’s built into Vista.”

Another advantage of Vista’s IPv6 for Bechtel is that it supports the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) v6. The Windows XP support for IPv6 didn’t include DHCPv6, which allows network managers to see all the devices connected to its network at any given time for auditing and security purposes.

“What we have now is a hybrid model where we use DHCP for IPv4 activities and autoconfiguration for the IPv6 addressing,” Wettling says, adding that Bechtel plans to migrate to DCHPv6 as it becomes available across Microsoft's software suite.

Bechtel has run into some problems getting applications to work with Vista’s IPv6 capabilities. These problems were with applications that used databases to store IP addresses, had IP addresses hard coded or assigned IP addresses via IPv4.

Bechtel also found that Vista’s IPv6 stack places a heavier demand on hardware. “That’s where there’s going to be the major cost for implementing Vista,” Wettling says.

Wettling says Bechtel views its investment in IPv6 testing as necessary.

“The value of IPv6 is not in the protocol itself, but the applications and services that IPv6 enables. New IPv6 applications will not be deployable until enterprises first enable their networks and computers. This process takes time. Microsoft’s implementation of IPv6 in Vista and Windows Server 2008 is a significant step forward in the protocol stack and basic IPv6 services such as peer-to-peer." Wettling adds.

Wettling recommends that other network executives get started with IPv6 testing immediately.

“It’s already too late to get started,” he warns. IT executives “really need to take a look at what the behavior of IPv6 is on their network from a security standpoint. They need to get to that point as quickly as possible to start the process of determining that all of their applications are IP-version agnostic.”

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