Juniper makes the jump to get IPv6-ready

The sheer volume of Internet users worldwide has resulted in a virtual breaking point, one in which the current supply of Web addresses is not meeting the demand. A new Internet Protocol, IPv6, promises to rectify the problem by increasing the number of available addresses, and IP vendors are scrambling to make their gear v6-ready.

Though later to market than its competition, Juniper Networks has finally released its next-generation IP-ready offerings, a move that has at least one customer breathing easier.

According to the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company, it has IPv6-enabled its M-series of Internet access and core router platforms and interfaces. Kevin Dillon, director of product marketing for Juniper, said the current platform, IPv4, does not have the scope to handle the sheer numbers of unique addresses being put onto the ‘net. IPv4 has the ability to support up to 3 billion unique addresses.

“The thought process there was like when people were writing software 30 years ago and didn’t account for the fact that we’d enter a new century,” he said.

The IPv6 protocol extends Internet growth exponentially by increasing the number of available addresses for Internet-enabled devices, and IDC Canada says the new protocol will lead the use of the Internet into this century and beyond.

According to Dillon, IPv6 essentially works the same way as IPv4.

“You are still sending around packets and those packets still have a destination address and a source address. (In IPv6) the predominant thing is that the destination address field and the source address field are considerably larger than in IPv4. You move from a 32-bit address field to a 128-bit address field.”

That creates enough addresses to represent every “person ever likely to be on earth, their cat and dog, refrigerator, microwave, car, mobile phone and so on,” said Dillon.

Juniper’s implementation of IPv6 uses the Internet Processor II ASIC, which the company said was built from the ground up to be IPv6-ready and also leverages Juniper’s latest release of its JUNOS Internet software version 5.1.

“That means that if you are a Juniper user today, all you need to do is use the latest version of JUNOS and you need no additional hardware to have IPv6 running on your network,” Dillon said. “This is production-ready, genuinely deployable IPv6. You don’t have to check to see which areas of your network may need new hardware. All of your Juniper hardware is able to run our IPv6 code today.”

Hardware-based IPv6 forwarding is just one of the features that Bob Fink said sets Juniper apart from its competition. Fink, network researcher with the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif ., has been involved in the 6TAP project, an IPv6 peering project aimed at promoting early adoption of IPv6 networks.

Fink explained that the 6TAP is a project to locate IPv6 peering facilities at these major peering points. Peering facilities connect networks together by using a protocol to exchange routes with each other. Fink said that typically any large Tier-1 network peers with literally hundreds of different peering points around the world.

The 6TAP project is currently in Chicago, Palo Alto and New York, but only Chicago and Palo Alto are up and running. He added that the router ESnet has been using for the 6TAP in Chicago is a Cisco IPv6 router, but there are plans in the works to switch that router over to a Juniper IPv6-ready product.

“ESnet converted its backbone a couple of years ago from Cisco GSR Routers to Juniper M-20s,” Fink said. “We did that because we believed that at the time they had a better product and could run at full-bandwidth performance at the links. Juniper has been steadfastly the most present and continuing high-performance competitor with Cisco and almost always betters them because [Juniper] focuses on that market. At the moment, Juniper has done a very good job for full-performance routing for IPv6. It did not take any hardware changes from their original design, and that is important.”

Fink, who is also a co-chairman of the IETF IPv6 transition, added that sometime next year, ESnet will move its backbone routers to the new version of Juniper code that supports IPv6.

“(In doing so) we will be able to support v4 and v6 on ESnet in our single router family backbone,” he added. “We are predominantly a Juniper customer for our backbone routers, so it is only logical that we use their routers for IPv6.”

Still, IDC Canada analyst Jim Wescott cautions that for now, it is unnecessary for the entire world to upgrade to IPv6, which is still in its infancy.

“IPv4 users can be assured that their services will be maintained through the transition period to IPv6,” Wescott said. He added, however, that the adoption of IPv6 can be a strategic advantage for businesses because of the value associated with providing advanced services at the network level.

“As the Internet becomes an increasingly important channel for business,…the adoption of IPv6 can improve activities associated with customer service and support.”