IPv6

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It’s the ignored protocol – one that most appreciate – but few are willing to adopt. IPv6 or Internet Protocol version 6 is a network layer protocol for packet-switched Internet networks.

The protocol is designated as the successor to IPv4, the current IP version.

The main improvement brought by IPv6 is increase in the number of addresses available for networked devices, allowing, for example, each mobile phone or mobile electronic device to have its own address.

But despite the fire and brimstone warnings about the potential exhaustion of IPv4 address space, Canadian technology analysts foresee no mad rush among enterprises to abandon IPv4 for IPv6 networks.

Revelations about the IPv6-based accomplishments of two researchers from the University of Tokyo seem to provide additional reasons for adoption of that protocol.

The researchers apparently broke Internet speed records twice – on two consecutive days – using the newer protocol.

They said they were able to transmit data at 7.67 gigabits per second (Gbps) over a 32,000 kilometer path on December 30. The very next day they accomplished data transmission at a speed of 9.08 Gbps over the same path.

The researchers cited this feat as additional proof of the viability of IPv6 – also known as Internet2. (The current theoretical limit for transmission over IPv6 is 10 Gbps).

“The achievement presents a real-world example that communication via IPv6 – without performance penalties – is possible,” said Sam Masud, principal analyst, carrier infrastructure with Frost & Sullivan in Washington, DC.

He said the feat has erased earlier concerns that being a “heavier protocol” IPv6 “would slow down address matching and negatively affect transmission time.”

Despite this additional validation of IPv6, however, adoption of the protocol continues to be tardy.

Masud says a combination of high training costs and “human nature” is behind most of the foot dragging.

“Yes, there is a scarcity of Internet addresses. But this is the real world, and people will not change over (to IPv6) unless the problem affects them.”

He also said the staggering cost of training is another barrier to adoption.

In 2005, the US Office of Management and Budget advised all federal agencies to move towards IPv6 compatibility by 2008.

The price tag for switching to IPv6 was estimated at US$25 billion (CAN$28 billion) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Of that figure, Masud said, US$23 billion (CAN$25.8 billion) was attributed to user and training costs.

When it comes to IPv6 adoption, the U.S. and Canada are far behind China, Japan, South Korea and European nations, according to George Goodall, analyst, Info-Tech Research Group Inc. in London, Ont.

For instance, he noted that China is already working towards linking 25 universities in 20 cities via IPv6.

Goodall said adoption in these developing countries is being driven by dwindling addresses as much as the need to gain a “competitive advantage” using new technology.

He said work on IPv6 began back in 1996 and technology experts have been calling for a switch over since 1999. However, the older IPv4 has been doing well and most organizations in North America see no need for immediate change.

“You probably won’t see any move for change unless people start feeling the pain,” the Info-Tech analyst said.

He said while most Internet service providers (ISPs) and larger organizations have IPv6-capable hardware, a majority of companies are “hesitant” to dole out the money needed to upgrade towards IPv6 compatibility.

Some companies use techniques such as network address translation to compensate.

The method, Goodall said, allows up to 257 nodes in a corporation to reside on a single IP address behind a company’s firewall.

The workaround, however, is not ideal for mobile devices, he said. “I think growing mobile device usage will be the tipping point for IPv6 adoption.”

Most organizations won’t need to worry about migration for at least another three years, according to Goodall.

As vendors produce more bandwidth-hungry devices to feed consumer craving, increasing Internet traffic on IPv4 will become “unsustainable,” according to Eugene Fiume, professor, computer science, University of Toronto.

Migration to IPv6 is imperative but the new protocol will soon be saturated as well if consumer appetite does not abate, he said. “ISPs make their resources seem limitless, but 10 Gbps is very easy to saturate even in a local area.”

“Even IPv6’s maximum speed might not mean a lot when you think of the growing demand for bandwidth hungry services such as YouTube,” Fiume said.

The 25-year-old incumbent IP standard only has 32 bits of space which is roughly equivalent to 2.3 billion addresses.

By contrast, IPv6 has a capacity of 128 bits or 340 undecillion addresses. The new protocol also allows many more devices to be simultaneously linked to the Internet.

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