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Network World - When the dominant maker and a powerful buyer of network gear - Cisco and the Pentagon - insist the time has come for IPv6, some might see it as marching orders for the industry.
However, IPv6 - ratified as a draft standard in 1998 - still represents the classic "ain't broke, don't fix" scenario for most U.S. companies. Why throw a wrench into networks that took years to build and fine-tune?
Proponents say that risk is justified by advanced IPv6 services such as improved security and mobility support, benefits that laggards stand to miss the longer they delay. And, of course, there's the shrinking pool of IP addresses, a problem IPv6 promises to fix.
Interest in IPv6 was sparked at a recent conference in San Diego, where the U.S. Department of Defense announced it is making IPv6 a procurement requirement. Cisco also recently extended its support of IPv6 from router and switch gear to firewall products.
Department of Defense CIO John Osterholz said his organization will start requiring support for the protocol starting in October. And by 2005, all Department of Defense networks will be fully interoperable with IPv6 networks.
That requirement is a boost for the technology, given that the Defense Department's IT budget is $30 billion, says Alex Lightman, chairman of the North American Global IPv6 Summit, where Osterholz spoke. "There is no budget like it. It is the 800-pound gorilla saying, 'Go to IPv6,'" he says.
One military IT professional who will be on the business end of the Defense Department's mandate is Commander Jeff White, information warfare officer for the Navy Warfare Development Command.
"IPv6 effectively opens the floodgates" with respect to new security and features, says White, who is responsible for deploying new network and security technologies on Navy ships. While not commenting directly on the Department of Defense mandate, he adds that his group has gotten a jump on the IPv6 issue. "We're already assuming that IPv6 will be out there and employed," he says.
Unlike at the Defense Department, ramping up IPv6 networks is less of a priority for businesses and organizations not involved in defense, experts and users say.
"Nothing is going on from the enterprise perspective" regarding IPv6, says Lawrence Orans, principal analyst at Gartner. "The [Department of Defense] is one enterprise that's obviously unique, but for regular companies and businesses, this is not on their radar screens."
Orans adds that U.S. companies "are not feeling much pain with IP Version 4," so there is little motivation to migrate.
That seems to be the prevailing view in the trenches.
"We are one of the lucky holders of a Class B IP network," says Bruce Meyer, senior network engineer at ProMedica Healthcare in Toledo, Ohio. A Class B license lets his organization have 65,024 unique IP addresses. It also means ProMedica won't be looking into IPv6 for a while.
IPv6 also is a back-burner issue for Sheng Guo, CTO for the New York State Court System.
"It's something we're going to look into, but not in the immediate future," he says.
Greater difficulties, he says, include managing and troubleshooting new applications, such as IP voice and video, over a recently installed statewide optical Ethernet infrastructure. Running out of IP addresses is not his biggest concern.
The perceived cost is one deterrent to IPv6, experts say.
"There is an inherent cost to rolling out IPv6," says Martin McNealis, Cisco's senior director of product management for IOS. He says this cost involves upgrading IP stacks on network gear, in applications, and end nodes such as PCs and servers.
"We're trying to mitigate that on the network side with [IPv6] integration efforts," into Cisco product lines, he adds. This includes complete support of IPv6 across all Cisco routers, and the recent announcement of IPv6 support in firewalls. Other vendors with routing gear that supports IPv6 include Foundry Networks, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Juniper and NEC.
Another factor against IPv6 is simply that there is little need, because U.S. businesses and governmental organizations have addresses to burn.