Task force proposed for transition to IPv6

InternetNZ is proposing to create a task force to assist New Zealanders in the transition to IPv6, a protocol that promises to ease the growth of the internet and improve communications between computers.

InternetNZ is proposing to create a task force to assist New Zealanders in the transition to IPv6, a protocol that promises to ease the growth of the internet and improve communications between computers.

IPv6 is a replacement for IPv4, the protocol most of today’s internet uses for communication between computers. IPv6 has a number of advantages over IPv4: proponents say it is more secure, offers more efficiency and flexibility, lessens the need for private networks sharing a single address, and will scale better with the increased size and use of the internet.

At some point, IPv4 will no longer cope with the internet’s growth: the address space — the number of available addresses — is too small. IPv6 allows for many more addresses, but it is an alternative to IPv4, rather than an extension. In order to support IPv6 vendors of network equipment and many software programs will need to update their products.

InternetNZ’s executive director, Peter Macaulay, sent an email to the NZ Network Operators Group mailing list last week, saying InternetNZ would propose the establishment of the task force “within the next four months”.

Membership of the task force would not be limited to InternetNZ members, Macaulay told Computerworld.

“People need to be able to contribute in some way, or be in a position to do something.”

The task force would not be charged with driving implementation of IPv6, but to prepare for the adoption of IPv6 when it becomes necessary. Macaulay described the task force’s role as “planning, testing and knowledge dissemination”.

No timetable for the implementation of IPv6 was planned.

“My personal view is that it’s inevitable, and we need to know when do we have to jump. All the routers are ready. Most countries have groups that are working on it and we don’t.”

Adoption of the IPv6 protocol has so far been limited, though many observers say the features of IPv6 are needed and it will eventually be adopted.

IPv6 cannot be used to communicate with IPv4-only machines, although both protocols can coexist together. To ease the transition, a period of coexistence is planned, where routers, switches and computers are able to understand both IPv4 and IPv6. Some computers, such as machines running Windows 98 or ME, are unlikely to ever be updated for IPv6, so administrators will be able to run network gateways which translate between the two protocols.

Despite the promise of IPv6, adoption is slow. There is little incentive for individual administrators to convert their networks, particularly if the support of a crucial vendor is lacking. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation: IPv6 only offers compelling advantages when it has wide use, but will only get wide use when it has compelling advantages.

Ironically, a major obstacle for IPv6 adoption is the success of the protocol it is designed to replace. IPv4 has served the internet well in its 20-plus years of use, handling demands its designers could not have predicted. For most users IPv4 is “good enough”, and only the limited address space is an issue critical enough to force the transition to IPv6.

InternetNZ’s Macaulay says use of IPv6 in some emerging sectors, such as mobile communications, may be a driver for more general adoption. He points also to the larger address space allowing wider use of two-way addressing. Currently, “we can’t make an inbound connection with a NAT address”, he says. NAT translates IP addresses used within networks to different addresses within other networks. IPv6 would allow every machine to have its own unique internet address and lessen the need for network administrators to work around the lack of available IP addresses.

Crucially, vendor support is for IPv6 increasing. Most router manufacturers have built support into their products; most Unix and Unix-like operating systems, including Linux, Solaris, Mac OS X and the common varieties of BSD, have IPv6 included in recent releases; and Microsoft has released a developer implementation for Windows 2000 and a production versions for Windows XP in service pack 1, and included IPv6 in Windows 2003 Server and Windows CE.NET.

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