IPv6 Shooting For The Moon

by Sean Michael Kerner

Next-generation Internet protocol gets through another successful test.

IPv6 , the next generation Internet protocol, has successfully undergone the third phase of a test regimen across a test network known as Moonv6.

Phase 3 of Moonv6 testing began on October 30th at University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Laboratory (NH-IOL) and was concluded on Nov 12th by the U.S. Defense Department's Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, according to researchers involved with the test.

The tests ran included functionality and deployment scenarios including wired and unwired LANs , DNS , DHCP , VoIP , firewalls and a range of other network infrastructure applications.

Moonv6 is the largest permanently deployed multi-vendor IPv6 network and stretches from New Hampshire to California. The latest round of testing involved a who's who of industry leaders including companies like AT&T , Cisco , HP , Juniper , Nortel , Microsoft and Sun .

"From everything we've seen, the underlying infrastructure of the technology is fully baked," Erica Williamsen, IPv6 Technical Manager at UNH-IOL, told internetnews.com. "The real work needed now is for vendors to fine tune their implementations and interoperability, and for service providers to adopt and deploy it."

According to Williamsen, the Moonv6 tests are also something of a call to action. As more vendors become involved, the smoother and faster the IPv6 adoption curve will be. She noted that Moonv6 is helping service providers to overcome potential hurdles by providing participants with experience building IPv6 network architectures and configuring IPv6 systems.

The existing IPv4 protocol is almost 20 years old at this point and is in need of an overhaul, officials said, which IPv6 is set to provide on a number of levels. Among them is a need to address a shortage of IPv4 addresses wrought by the growth and use of the Internet, a problem that IPv6 was intended to help alleviate.

According to a leading authority on DNS and founder of the ISC (the group that produces BIND, the dominant DNS tool of the Internet) Paul Vixie, the biggest hurdle that enterprises and end users have in adopting IPv6 today is a lack of motivation.

"Most enterprises/end users have successfully worked around the shortage of IPv4 address space by deploying NAT and using private (RFC1918) addresses internally," Vixie told internetnews.com. "This was painful, and it was wrong, but it's now common practice, and it's "good enough" that paying more money for upgrades and training to get IPv6 has no business case in 2004."

NAT stands for Network Address Translation and is the default mechanism for many enterprises for assigning IP addresses to their end users behind a firewall. Normally a DHCP server will assign those NAT address as opposed to having a real ISP assigned IP address. A NAT address is not a real IP address in the sense that it is only internal and allows a myriad of users to effectively share one main external IP address.

Vixie explained that enterprises are now used to their ISP independent NAT addresses.

"While IPv6 tries very hard to avoid the need for NAT, and makes address space plentiful enough that every device could have a real address, not a private (RFC1918) address, this would present the enterprise/enduser segment with a "lock-in" and I don't expect this model to gain much traction," Vixie said.

Vixie's ISC runs the f-root DNS servers on both IPv4 and IPv6. So far though the traffic on IPv6 is only from a small community of leading-edge experimenters and hobbyists.

That said, infrastructure and communications companies have plenty of motivation to deploy the new technology according to Vixie. "The real drivers for IP v6 deployment are in the infrastructure and communications communities, and the enterprise/enduser communities will ultimately "come along for the ride", Vixie said.

This article was originally published on Tuesday Nov 16th 2004