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IPv6 fears seen unfounded

Early adopters report transition has been easier, less expensive than predicted.

By , Network World
December 15, 2003 12:10 AM ET

Network World - ARLINGTON, VA. - Early adopters of IPv6 say deployment of this upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol is significantly easier than expected and costs less than anticipated.

These findings run counter to longstanding conventional wisdom from the Internet engineering community, which for years has warned ISPs and corporate network managers about the need to prepare for a time-consuming and expensive upgrade to IPv6.

The U.S. Department of Defense and several universities reported positive feedback about their IPv6 deployments at the U.S. IPv6 Summit 2003, held last week in Arlington, Va.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has worked on IPv6 since 1992. While the transition to IPv6 has taken longer than advocates expected, that pace appears to have generated an unintended benefit: Now that users want to deploy IPv6, it's already bundled in the hardware and software they need to buy in the course of normal infrastructure upgrades.

"IPv6 is less complex than we thought, and it doesn't take as many resources as we thought,'' says Jim Bound, chairman of the North American IPv6 Task Force and an HP fellow. Bound has been involved in IPv6 development and transition issues for nearly a decade.

IPv6 promises easier administration, tighter security, greater mobility and an enhanced addressing scheme over IPv4, the Internet's current protocol. IPv6 uses a 128-bit addressing scheme and can support a virtually limitless number of uniquely identified systems on the Internet. In contrast, IPv4 supports only a few billion systems because it uses a 32-bit addressing scheme. 

Tips for IPv6 deployment
Here's some advice for network managers thinking about migrating to IPv6:
Plan ahead. Upgrading to IPv6 requires a detailed network design and transition plan.
Take time. The Defense Department will migrate to IPv6 over the next six years. Most companies will need three or four years to enable IPv6 during regular upgrades.
Test. Never deploy a new proto-col on your backbone network without adequate testing.
Train your people. One expense associated with IPv6 is training your network manage-ment and operations staff.
Appoint an IPv6 leader.
Choose someone in your organi-zation to lead deployment.
Click to see:

The North American IPv6 Task Force joined the military and university communities in building the largest-ever network based on IPv6. Dubbed Moonv6, this network connects more than 80 servers, switches and nodes in eight states. Moonv6 was completed in October and is running IPv6 and IPv4.

"We were all shocked'' at how simple it was to deploy Moonv6, Bound says. "It went way easier than we thought. But the trick is you have to plan, plan, plan.''

More significant for corporate network managers is the idea that IPv6 will require few additional costs beyond regular network upgrades. That's what NTT subsidiary Verio discovered as it developed the first commercial IPv6 service in the U.S., which it announced last week at the summit.

"There wasn't a lot of cost to deploy our IPv6 service,'' says Cody Christman, director of product engineering for Verio. "IPv6 has been on our road map since 1997. We've always kept it in mind when we were upgrading our switches and routers.''

Verio has priced its new IPv6 offerings at the same rates as its IPv4 services. The company now offers commercial IPv6 service at every location in the U.S. where it offers Internet access.

"It's kind of a myth that when people deploy IPv6 it's going to require an enormous capital expenditure,'' Christman says. "It definitely wasn't the case at Verio.''

The IETF finalized the main IPv6 specifications in 1998. However, IPv6 has taken the intervening years to gain momentum among network vendors and ISPs.

IPv6 deployment is easier and costs less than anticipated because the protocol now ships with many networking products. All the major router manufacturers - including Cisco, Juniper, Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks - support IPv6. Microsoft supports IPv6 in Windows XP, and IPv6 comes bundled with the most popular versions of Unix and Linux. Key public domain software packages such as the Mozilla Web browser, Apache Web server and Sendmail e-mail software also support IPv6.

"All the network infrastructure components are IPv6 enabled,'' Bound says. "What we're still missing are software applications. We need the major business applications such as Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP to support IPv6.'' These applications are coming, as evidenced by Oracle executives unveiling their IPv6 road map at the IPv6 Summit last week.

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