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The Next-Generation Internet Protocol Invites Adoption

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IPv4 will run out of addresses within a few short years, but adoption of IPv6 has been slow in coming.


Among the new features in IBM i 6.1 (V6R1) is expanded support for the next-generation Internet protocol, IPv6. The new protocol follows the current IPv4 with a greatly expanded pool of available addresses and provides a number of other secondary features, including improvements in security, mobility, and route optimization.


IPv6 is an acronym that stands for Internet Protocol Version 6. It was designed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) with remarkable foresight as the next-generation tool to phase out and supplant IPv4, first developed back in the 1970s. IPv4 has served the Internet community well for more than 25 years. But IPv4, nevertheless, is getting a bit long of tooth. While its biggest problem is that it offers only a limited number of available IP addresses, it also has limitations in routing and network autoconfiguration. IPv6 addresses all of these issues and more and will gradually replace IPv4.


IPv6, however, is not backwardly compatible with IPv4, and the two must coexist for the foreseeable future while IPv6 continues to gain popularity. New deployments of IPv4 networks will decrease, but it's unlikely that IPv4 ever will completely go away. Consequently, networks and routers must support both IPv4 and IPv6. The Domain Name System (DNS) must be updated to include IPv6 addresses, and new IPv6 clients will need to communicate with IPv4 servers, while IPv4 clients will need to communicate with new IPv6 servers. Current TCP/IP applications may be updated to include IPv6 support or merely continue to support IPv4 exclusively. Newer TCP/IP applications, of course, can be designed to be transparent of the IP version and to exploit IPv6 capabilities.


Why is migrating to IPv6 important? There has been unprecedented expansion in the use of the Internet in recent years, particularly by large countries, including India and China.  Chinese population is about 4.5 times that in the U.S., and China really has started to use the Internet in a massive way. Chinese Internet users are logging in around 2 billion hours per week, and the country soon will exceed the United States in Internet usage.


The Chinese face a shortage of IP addresses, with only about 60 million addresses made available to them. Meanwhile, the overall pool of available Internet addresses is expected to be depleted by about 2012. The solution to the shortage is adoption of IPv6, which will provide Internet addresses for everyone on the planet several times over.


Though some have argued that IPv6 deployment is moving at a snail's pace, there actually has been progress in parts of the world where adoption is gaining momentum. Unfortunately, much of the adoption is outside the U.S. Nevertheless, IPv6 infrastructure is being put into place across the Internet backbone and in major wide-area networks.  Tier-1 Internet backbone networks that have tested and deployed IPv6 include those run by AOL Transit Data Network, AT&T, Global Crossing, Level 3, MCI, NTT (Verio), Sprint Nextel, Qwest, SAVVIS, VSNL-Teleglobe, Telesonera, France Telecom, and Telefonica.


The major wide-area networks that have been operating with IPv6 infrastructure and services include AARNET, Abilene (Internet2 in the U.S.), ERNET, CSTnet2 and CERNET2, Gigabit European Academic Network (GEANT), JGN2, WIDE, KREONET2, RedCLARA, RUNet, FREEnet, TANET2, and TWAREN. Most of the networks are operated in the Far East, Europe, Australia, Russia, and India.


The U.S. government has mandated that the network backbones of all federal agencies deploy IPv6 by the end of this year. Projections for worldwide Internet penetration of IPv6 have it reaching 25 percent by 2010, 35 percent by 2015, and 50 percent by 2020. Within two years, IPv6 is expected to be the dominant protocol.


While IPv6 adoption in the rest of world is moving ahead at a fairly brisk pace, little movement is occurring in the U.S. The economy has been blamed for network infrastructure vendors not quickly introducing new products and for service providers not upgrading and expanding their networks. There's no question that IPv6 upgrades to network infrastructure will be expensive and require new hardware, staff training, and support for newer and more complex code.


One senses a type of complacency in the U.S. and Europe that may result from their having so many IPv4 addresses already. The utilization of network address translation (NAT) has mitigated the shortage of addresses, and network companies see little financial gain in investing in IPv6. That perception may be because they don't understand the benefits of the new protocol or simply don't find them very compelling.


Just what are the benefits of IPv6? The newer protocol addresses the impending problem with IPv4, an exhaustion of addresses to connect computers and hosts in a packet-switched network. IPv6 is a very large address space compared to IPv4, 128 bits as opposed to 32 bits. The IPv6 addressing scheme eliminates any need for network address translation, which can be a source of more than a few networking problems across the Net. 


Among the more subtle benefits to be expected from IPv6 is an improvement in quality of service so as to enable new applications such as IP telephony, audio and video, interactive games, and e-commerce. Improvements in network traffic data loss, latency, and bandwidth are inherent in IPv6.


A new feature named Mobile IPv6 allows a computer or host to stay within "reach," regardless of its location in the IPv6 network. The mobile node can be maintained even as it changes locations and address connections.


Another feature, called "stateless auto reconfiguration of hosts," allows the IPv6 host to configure automatically when connected to a routed IPv6 network. IPv6 also implements network layer encryption and authentication through IPsec.


In earlier versions of i5/OS (specifically, V5R2 and V5R3), the OS supported only limited features of IPv6. In V5R4, support for IPv6 became more complete with support over loopback, all Ethernet adapters, virtual Ethernet between partitions, enablement of multiple Ethernet adapters, and sharing of adapters. Support was also provided for multicast, fragmentation and the basic socket extensions for IPv6.


IBM i 6.1 (V6R1) provides specific CL commands to configure IPv6 and allows System Navigator to be used over an IPv6 network. There is support for IPSec and VPNs running on IPv6, packet filtering, virtual IP addresses, communication with DNS over an IPv6 network, local host table for IPv6 host names, MLDv2 and IGMPv3 (source-specific multicast), and advanced socket APIs: multicast and ancillary, mobility, privacy extensions for stateless addresses, and additional applications, including Telnet and FTP.


It's clear that IBM is moving ahead in taking the i world toward IPv6. The question is whether the i world is willing to go. But if the U.S. and Europe appear less than enthusiastic to utilize new features in IPv6, then the Chinese definitely are willing to pick up the slack. The test bed for the Chinese investment in broadband and mobility services supported on an IPv6 network will be the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics.


This year's Olympic Games are expected to surpass any previous media event in terms of support they receive from high technology. The Chinese fully expect to showcase their technological prowess for the entire world through the Olympics. With its newly acquired wealth, China is expected to display a level of IPv6-driven network functionality unseen previously. Apparently, the country's researchers, academics, and entrepreneurs have been encouraged to develop new applications and widgets that take full advantage of IPv6 capabilities. China hopes to portray itself as a major center of technological and scientific advancement that puts it on par with its established leadership in manufacturing.


Applications utilizing high-definition TV, VPNs, leased lines, broadband access, mobile ticketing and blogging, video streaming, and mobile TV advertising are expected to be deployed by China all at once during the Olympics through an impressive array of broadband technologies built on the IPv6 platform.


With some 7 million people expected to see the Games live and 5 billion watching on television, you can be sure the 20,000 journalists covering the Games will find plenty to write about besides water polo, including impressive new technology. With Olympics events being spread out over 37 venues, the telecom infrastructure has been designed to cover different locations simultaneously. The official service provider for the Olympics, China Netcom, reportedly has plans to connect its optical network to the various IT, TV broadcasting, and security systems in place in order to cover the events from every conceivable angle, and more than 70 percent of live Olympic events will be broadcast in high definition.


China's building a unique intelligent transmission platform and will carry live video by satellite, by above-ground cable, and under water with the network controlling lighting and thermostats at the Olympic venues. Even Beijing taxis will be monitored by IPv6 sensors so that traffic congestion can be relieved by rerouting the cars when necessary.


Access to a dedicated VIP network that provides high-speed Internet to the media, hotels, and organizers will be available, and visitors will be able to access the Internet with an integrated circuit card without a password required.


China plans to take full advantage of the features and benefits inherent in IPv6 at the Olympics, while much of Europe and the United States watches on analog TVs through an outdated infrastructure.


While the technological innovations China is expected to display may impress today's savvy Internet users in the U.S. and Europe, it may nevertheless provide only a mild incentive for ISPs to take steps to broaden the reach of IPv6. Some believe there must be a critical mass of IPv6 site adopters before any rapid deployment of the new protocol will occur. Until customers pressure ISPs for adoption, there may be little change in their investment priorities. Ultimately, it will take a combination of updated applications, middleware, and infrastructure--with a few large customers leading the way--for North America and Europe to come even close to matching the initiatives being shown by the bounding economies of the Far East.


It behooves technology leaders in the i world to take measured steps now to familiarize themselves and their colleagues with IPv6, begin implementation plans within their organizations, and start championing the benefits of adopting the next-generation Internet protocol. The move to IPv6 is inevitable. The challenge for technology visionaries is to discover ways to generate revenue from the IPv6 enhancements so as to speed its adoption and provide a return on investment.


Editor's Note: The author wishes to acknowledge the work of writer Kaushik Das of IPv6.com, on which much of the previous article is based. IPv6.com is a Web portal devoted to providing information, consultation, and hardware for the IPv6 tech industry. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of IBM's IBM i (i5/OS) TCP/IP development team, whose presentation at COMMON 2008 helped bring this issue to light, deserves thanks and acknowledgement for her work and information contained herein. For more on IPv6, visit www.ipv6.org/other-sites.html.

Chris Smith

Chris Smith was the Senior News Editor at MC Press Online from 2007 to 2012 and was responsible for the news content on the company's Web site. Chris has been writing about the IBM midrange industry since 1992 when he signed on with Duke Communications as West Coast Editor of News 3X/400. With a bachelor's from the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in English and minored in Journalism, and a master's in Journalism from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Chris later studied computer programming and AS/400 operations at Long Beach City College. An award-winning writer with two Maggie Awards, four business books, and a collection of poetry to his credit, Chris began his newspaper career as a reporter in northern California, later worked as night city editor for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and went on to edit a national cable television trade magazine. He was Communications Manager for McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, Calif., before it merged with Boeing, and oversaw implementation of the company's first IBM desktop publishing system there. An editor for MC Press Online since 2007, Chris has authored some 300 articles on a broad range of topics surrounding the IBM midrange platform that have appeared in the company's eight industry-leading newsletters. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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