IPv6 Still on the Periphery as Time Grows Shorter

Carl Weinschenk

Sports writers know that every spring they'll be able to write about the upcoming baseball season, and movie critics know that there always will be new flicks to review. In the same way, tech and telecom reporters and bloggers have the luxury of knowing that there always will be the "When will IPv6 happen?" story to fall back on during days bereft of other news.

Actually, this isn't one of those days, since the Internet Society (ISOC) met this week and discussed Internet Protocol version 6. Thus there is a real reason to write about it. The protocol, sooner or later, will serve an important role. The number of Internet addresses created by Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) -- a paltry 4.3 billion or so -- is teetering due to the growth of mobility and, to a lesser extent, . IPv6 will hike the number of IP addresses to mind-boggling proportions, even beyond those associated with the cost of the bailout. Indeed, the number of address possibilities-this CNET piece put it at the number 34 followed by 33 zeros-is astonishing. Many folks, including luminaries such as Vint Cerf, suggest that it is time to finally implement the new protocol.


The CNET piece, which was a report from the meeting held in San Francisco, is well done. It delivers the important news that Google is increasingly active in the IPv6 push.


While most people consider the importance of IPv6 to be strictly to make enough numbers available, the writer quotes Google network engineer Lorenzo Colitti on a point that goes beyond pure address capacity. In order to stretch the IPv4 soup, tricks such as network address translation (NAT) and dynamic IP addresses were introduced. These approaches basically let endpoints share IP addresses. Since the beneficiaries of such workarounds are in a sense one step removed from direct contact with the Internet, they generally don't store data themselves. Using IPv6 to give these devices an IP address of their very own, Colitti says, will make it more likely that they will host their own data and thus lead to a more fully distributed Internet.


Experts have bemoaned the shortage of IPv4 addresses for years and, in general, non-experts take them at their word. Ars Technica, which also covered the ISOC meeting, does a good job of using simple math to explain the shortage claims. The smart thinking now, the writer says, is that the IPv4 cupboard will be bare in two or three years. The good news is that the answer is here; all that needs to happen is for people to decide to use it. IPv6, the writer says, is in "maintenance mode" within the Internet Engineering Task Force. The heavy lifting now focuses on the crucial task of internetworking between systems using the two addressing schemes.


The military also recently made IPv6 news. The U.S. Department of Defense is transitioning the way in which it handles IPv6, according to Network World. In essence, until now equipment using the protocol was evaluated separately to ensure that it fulfilled the military's IPv6 requirements. That will still happen, but the military has decided that IPv6 is prevalent enough to integrate the testing into the ordinary process with which the military assesses gear. The specific nomenclature around the move: The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is placing IPv6 testing done by the Joint Interoperability Test Command into the Unified Capabilities Requirements process.


Vnunet.com does a good job of highlighting the reasons that IPv6 has taken off so slowly. It discusses a survey of 1,100 organizations conducted last year by the American Registry for Internet Numbers to provide insight into the impact of various issues on the speed of IPv6 deployment. The survey said 40 percent of organizations cited the desire to "get ahead of the game" as a reason to make the move, while only 13 percent cited increased user demand. Though percentages are not provided, a dearth of IT knowledge, lack of IPv4/IPv6 internetworking, and the uncertain fate of legacy applications are cited as reasons to go slow, while inherent improvements in security and better management capabilities are seen as reasons to justify deployments.


It seems that bloggers and reporters will be able to write the "whither IPv6" story for some time to come. Slowly, however, it seems that the industry is moving toward the new addressing scheme. The writers and reporters, at some point, will have to find another default story.

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