US DOD begins six months of IPv6 interoperability tests

FRAMINGHAM (10/20/2003) - For the next six months, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will operate the largest multivendor IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) network to date.

Today, the North American IPv6 Task Force announced that the network, dubbed the Moonv6 project, has been deployed to evaluate next-generation Internet technology to support network-centric military operations.

The DOD has said it will migrate its existing Global Information Grid Network, based at University of New Hampshire, to the new IPv6 network by 2008.

"Future combat and defense systems need network ubiquity, mobility and security that the current Internet protocol, IPv4, cannot provide," said Maj. Roswell Dixon, Joint Interoperability Testing Command tactical data systems/IPv6 test director at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in a statement. "The lack of security and flexibility in the current protocol has hampered efforts to build next-generation secure communications."

In a telebriefing on Oct. 17, Dixon said the IPv6 project was groundbreaking for the Defense Department. "This is the first time we've had representation from all the services" in a test of the new protocol, he said.

The Moonv6 project is a collaboration among industry, engineering and several DOD organizations and is designed to examine the interoperability of IPv6 equipment, software and services under real-world conditions.

The Interoperability Laboratory of the University of New Hampshire (UNH-IOL) just completed the Moonv6 project's initial interoperability and test period, which ran from Oct. 7 to 17. The goal is to keep Moonv6 up and running permanently as the North American IPv6 backbone.

One of the major factors driving the move from the IP Version 4 now in use to to IPv6 is a perceived scarcity of IP addresses for new devices such as Internet-enabled mobile phones. IPv4 addresses are 32 bits long, enough for around 4 billion unique addresses, although inefficiencies in the division and allocation of the address space means that many of these aren't available for use.

IPv6 extends the address length to 128 bits, or around 340 billion billion billion billion unique addresses.

While governments and network operators in Europe and Asia have been conducting large-scale tests of IPv6 for the last three years, the U.S. response to IPv6 has been "lackluster," according to the Web site of Moon's organizers. And the country is still playing catch-up: The DOD tests were originally due to begin on Oct. 3 and finish Oct. 17, but haven't yet begun, according to information provided by the organizers.

Participants in the Moon tests include the DOD, the UNH-IOL, the North American IPv6 Task Force, several networking software and equipment vendors including IBM, Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Cisco Systems Inc., Fujitsu Ltd., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Nokia Corp., as well as Japan-based network operator Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., according to a statement issued today.

Peter Sayer of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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