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Apple's IPv6 misstep is a sign of the times

Many network vendors lack 'feature parity' between IPv4 and IPv6 offerings

By , Network World
April 24, 2012 06:03 AM ET

Network World - Apple's controversial decision not to support IPv6 on Version 6.0 of AirPort Utility is the latest example of a broader problem plaguing the next-gen Internet Protocol: Many network vendors are lacking the same level of features and performance in products that support IPv6 as those that support IPv4, the original Internet Protocol.

BACKGROUND: Apple under fire for backing off IPv6 support

In Apple's case, the company doesn't support IPv6 in its AirPort Utility 6.0 released in January. Instead, Apple requires users to run Version 5.6 of the AirPort Utility if they want to use IPv6 (and has not responded to our query about supporting IPv6 in AirPort Utility 6.0). This is especially a problem for users of Mac OS X Lion.

Apple is not alone in its spotty support for IPv6. Presenters at the North American IPv6 Summit in Denver earlier this month said the lack of IPv6 feature parity for network hardware, software and services is one of the biggest challenges they face as they deploy the new standard.

"Some service providers and product vendors have limited IPv6 support today," said Ron Broersma, chief engineer for the U.S. military's Defense Research and Engineering Network, which has deployed IPv6 on its DNS, email and Web services. "It can take 12 to 18 months to get products fixed."

IPv6 is an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is called IPv4.

IPv6 features an expanded addressing scheme that can support billions of devices connected directly to the Internet. But IPv6 is not backward compatible with IPv4, which is running out of addresses. Network operators can either support both protocols in what's called dual-stack mode or translate between IPv4 and IPv6. If network operators do nothing, their IPv4-based websites will not be accessible to the growing number of Internet users who receive IPv6 addresses from their carriers.

Broersma listed "the lack of IPv6/IPv4 feature parity" as the top challenge for U.S. government agencies trying to deploy IPv6 in time to meet a Sept. 30, 2012, Obama administration mandate. He also complained about network vendors not using their own IPv6-based products internally, a practice known in the tech industry as "eating your own dog food."

RELATED: The sorry state of federal IPv6 support

Broersma cited Cisco, Brocade and Juniper as three network vendors that have improved the range of features and level of performance of their IPv6-based products since June 2011, when World IPv6 Day was held. World IPv6 Day was a 24-hour trial of IPv6 sponsored by the Internet Society that attracted thousands of website operators.

"Cisco has made major improvements in the last year, and we are very happy to see that," Broersma said. "Brocade is close behind, and Juniper is making progress. This is especially for IPv6-only network management."

Comcast has run into the problem of lagging IPv6 support by its suppliers as it deploys the new standard across its nationwide backbone. For example, only one of its key cable modem termination system (CMTS) vendors -- Arris -- supports IPv6 sufficiently enough to be included in its ongoing deployment of IPv6. Similarly, Comcast has approved only six home gateways from D-Link, Linksys and Netgear for its initial rollout of an IPv6 home networking service.

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