IPv6 tests show solid interoperability, slow performance

* A look at the findings from the military’s IPv6 tests

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The latest test results are a mixed bag for IPv6, the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet’s main communications protocol.

Tests conducted this fall on Moonv6, the world’s largest native IPv6 backbone , showed improvement in the ability of network equipment vendors to conform to the IPv6 standards and interoperate with each other. However, the tests also showed significant performance degradation when network equipment runs both IPv4 and IPv6 services at the same time.

In this week’s newsletter, I’ll cover the findings from the military’s IPv6 tests, which ran on Moonv6 from mid-October through mid-November. Next week, I’ll provide details about the civilian-oriented tests underway at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) InterOperability Lab.

Moonv6 is a joint operation of UNH, the U.S. Defense Department, the North American IPv6 Task Force and the Internet2 university consortium. It links approximately 80 servers, switches and routers located in sites from New Hampshire to California. Established in 2003, Moonv6 supports two rounds of testing each year.

Moonv6 exists to help boost deployment of IPv6, which promises easier administration, tighter security and an enhanced addressing scheme over IPv4, the Internet’s current protocol. IPv6, which uses a 128-bit addressing scheme, supports a virtually limitless number of uniquely identified systems on the 'Net, while IPv4 supports only a few billion systems because it uses a 32-bit addressing scheme.

In its latest round of Moonv6 tests , the U.S. military tested IPv6 conformance, interoperability, functionality and performance. The tests involved seven groups within the Defense Department that represented all four branches of the military services. The Defense Department’s Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., led the military’s Moonv6 tests.

Vendors involved in the Moonv6 tests included Cisco, Juniper, Microsoft, Spirent, Ixia, Lumeta, Perle Systems, Jabber and Agilent. The tests included switches, routers, firewalls, IP compression devices and test equipment from these manufacturers.

"In prior tests, we focused on end-to-end performance," says Jim Jordan, director of business development for Spirent Federal, which provided IPv6 test equipment and personnel to help the military run the Moonv6 tests. "But in this round of tests we looked at individual device conformance to the IPv6 RFCs. We attempted to test 44 different IPv6-related RFCs."

Jordan says that most of the equipment that was tested is IPv6 capable and can be deployed in existing networks.

"Overall, the results looked pretty good," Jordan says. "We could see improvement in performance and functionality with each of the vendors whose equipment was tested. In addition, the level of vendor responsiveness and participation was much improved."

The Moonv6 tests are important because the military has set a deadline of June 2008 for completing its migration to IPv6.

"We saw real progress made in RFC compliance for IPv6," said Capt. Jeremy Duncan, an interoperability and integration officer with the U.S. Marine Corps, in a statement. "As a whole, the core IPv6 specifications (i.e. IPv6 addressing, stateless auto configuration and Internet Control Message Protocol for IPv6) seem to have matured just fine in those products tested."

However, Duncan said that features such as mobility and security for IPv6 need more work from network equipment vendors.

Participants in the Moonv6 tests also noted significant performance degradation when equipment runs both IPv4 and IPv6 in what’s called dual-stack mode. That’s because most vendors are implementing IPv6 in software rather than hardware.

"When running dual stack IPv4 and IPv6, the performance of the devices we tested was significantly less than running native IPv4 or native IPv6," Jordan says. "The difference depends on the device, but it could be as much as running at 100% on IPv4 and 10% on dual-stack."

Jordan says the dual-stack performance of IPv6-capable network equipment should improve over the next year as vendors roll out hardware implementations of IPv6.

"As they meet all the IPv6 standards in hardware or firmware, the performance should be similar to what they’re getting on IPv4 today," Jordan says. "During the course of the next year, most of the vendors will have hardware implementations of IPv6. If they don’t, they’re going to suffer in the market."

For the military, the latest round of IPv6 tests allowed the Defense Department to successfully demonstrate its own plan for testing that devices are IPv6 capable as part of the military’s procurement process.

"We are very excited to have finalized the testing procedures necessary for warfighters to comfortably acquire IPv6 compliant devices in their communications, intelligence and battlefield systems," Duncan said. "Testing new features is great, but without completing the basic compliance testing, those devices are nothing more than oversized paperweights. Those Marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors stationed in and around Iraq cannot afford equipment that only works sometimes."

In its next round of Moonv6 tests, the Defense Department plans to test the features of High-Assurance IP Encryptors and Home Agent to Mobile Node mobility at a host and router level.

"The concerns for broad transition [to IPv6] are non-trivial, and we are dedicated to alleviating those risks," Duncan says. "With a little help from the commercial industry and a continued source of Defense Department funding, JITC will ease those concerns to manageable levels."

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