Infinite addresses

IPv6 has been on the technology roadmap for many years without making huge inroads. However, with vendors recently releasing IPv6 ready products and service providers actively testing IPv6 in the region, 2005 could be the year that it finally takes off.

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By  Simon Duddy Published  February 20, 2005

|~|Salim,Nasser_m.jpg|~|“Customers show frustration when they cannot get a static IP address, which is necessary for broadband use.” - Nasser Salim, senior manager of Internet & eSolutions at Etisalat.|~|The internet is a victim of its own success and as it has grown, effective addressing of network nodes has become increasingly more difficult. The internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) addressing schema is rapidly running out of unique addresses and according to many in the networking business IPv6 is the answer. IPv6 is simply the next generation of internet addressing and while it has been around for some time — it was ratified as a draft standard in 1998 — and is technically superior to IPv4, there has so far been no rush to migrate. However, there are signs that this is changing. Etisalat, for example, has carried out considerable IPv6 tests. The service provider is also in the process of discussing a dedicated IPv6 link with other ISPs in the region. This will allow Etisalat to test the application layer, which is the next step after successfully conducting tests in the network layer. This is in response to customer demand as IP address shortages are being acutely felt in some parts of the region. “There is a clear need for more IP addresses, for example, there is a lack of addresses in Lebanon which has led to borrowing from Canada,” says Itidal Hasoon, vice chair of the IPV6 forum for the Middle East and Africa. “However, IPv6 should solve this kind of problem and there is momentum behind the standard. The United Nations is pushing IPv6 as it is an enabler for elearning, egovernment and ebanking. We will hold a summit in September of this year where we will announce deployments in the Middle East and Africa,” she adds. The need for more addresses is being driven by an expansion of the internet and also by the proliferation of new services. Greater demand for web services and the rollout of broadband has helped to drive IPv6. The need for the new protocol is more pronounced in areas in areas where high technology uptake is coupled with low address quotas such as Far East. North America and Europe have a disproportionately high number of IPv4 addresses and so the finite nature of IPv4 has been more keenly felt in other areas of the world, which have a disproportionately low number of IPv4 addresses. “Customers show frustration when they cannot get a static IP address, which is necessary for broadband use,” says Nasser Salim, senior manager of Internet & eSolutions at Etisalat. “In the UAE it is not that big an issue as we have about 50,000 broadband users, which we expect to grow to 100,000 users this year. But in Japan and South Korea, there is around 70% broadband penetration, so they have had to move very quickly to IPv6,” he adds. Broadband is not the only new technology that is eating up IP addresses. Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) is also an important factor behind the growth of IPv6. The technology makes more efficient use of the IP network when carrying video and voice content. As MPLS deployments increase users will be encouraged to connect more devices to the network, driving the need for more addresses. MPLS and broadband are simply individual strands in a broad sweep of convergence, which is rapidly increasing the number of applications that run over the internet and therefore driving the need for new IP addresses. For example, as the smart home phenomena takes off and more household devices are controlled over the network, there will be a need to provide addresses for these items. “IPv6 is the way of future for internet telecommunication,” says Muhammed Aslam Malik, manager of network and communications at Emirates Bank. “TCP/IP is a standard protocol and is becoming dominant over other communications protocols. Organisations are shifting towards IP based systems only,” he adds. This is most apparent with voice over internet protocol (VoIP) implementations, which are gradually phasing out traditional TDM networks in many enterprises. As each phone is added to the IP network, it will need an IP address, which increases the pressure on the already strained pool of IPv4 resources. The issue is most important at the moment for service providers, who must provide IP addresses for enterprise and consumer clients. As demand has outstripped supply, they have been quick to calculate that a move to IPv6 is inevitable. “We realised the internet was going to be a key technology, that there would be a problem in addressing and that this would effect the quality of service we could offer,” says Salim. “3G came in, which is IP-based and as a teclo we realised we were going into IP world, so we decided we should be early adopters,” he adds. Although it is less of a pressing issue with the enterprise at the moment, many companies such as Emirates Bank are gearing up for it. “We are preparing,” says Malik. “We look for IPv6 compatibility in all of the new hardware we procure,” he adds. When looking at statistics relating to the contrasting protocols, it’s easy to see why IPv6 is attractive for both enterprises and service providers. IPv4’s 32 bit system supports 4.3 billion numbers and, in theory, the same amount of network nodes. IPv6, on the other hand, is built around an address space of 128 bits and can support 3.4 W 10^38 (3.4 dodecillion) addresses. This represents a huge leap in IP addresses and is designed to guide the internet through the next stage in its development. “The advantages include massively increased address space, but also built in mobility, extended security, optimised routing and multicast services,” says Yarob Sakhnini, regional technical manager, Foundry Networks. “Many applications that are difficult to operate and manage using an IPv4 based network can now be more easily implemented using IPv6, for instance peer-to-peer and highly mobile applications, as well as gaming,” he adds. The increased addressing provided by IPv6 will become more important as the internet proliferates from the desktop to devices in the home and in the wider world. As smart devices in the home become internet-enabled and surveillance cameras connect to the network, to take two examples, more IP addresses will be needed. IPv6 should also allow service providers to more effectively take advantage of market opportunities arising from the increasing breadth of internet-enabled devices. “If all devices are IPv6-enabled, from fridges to cars and mobiles, that opens up a great market for us. Anything can have internet access. We are investing now and when the market matures we will be in a position to capitalise,” says Salim. The service provider’s efforts are sure to be enhanced by the development of the mobile version of IPv6 (MIPv6). This allows a mobile node to transparently maintain connections while moving from one network to another. Each device is identified by its home address although it may be connecting through a different network. Nokia has developed a prototype handset that supports MIPv6, which will help to improve the quality of VoIP and streaming video. This is in response to a limitation of IPv4, which when used with NAT in mobile devices causes latency. With MIPv6 there is no need for NAT and call quality should improve considerably. The technology is in trials and the moment and it will probably be a few years before it is integrated in mobile operator’s networks. However, MIPv6 may not necessarily help to push IPv6 in the enterprise. It is possible to have mobile devices on an IPv6-based network, with these handing off to IPv4-based networks among static devices. This model of co-existence can help to extend the utility of legacy IPv4 equipment, while at the same time lessening the burden new mobile internet devices will place on IP addressing. As well as addressing, IPv6 offers other benefits, with security one that is often touted. IPv6 comes with IP Security (IPsec) built-in. This is a framework for security protocols, which is helpful in tools such as VPNs. IPv4 deployments usually have this feature but it must be added in. Additionally, IPv6 features longer addresses, which make it more difficult for attackers to crack when encrypted. IPv6 is also more easily controllable, with IPv4 taking a circuitous route (because of NAT routers) to get from one part of the internet to another. On the other hand, IPv6 follows a more direct path, which allows service providers to trace traffic more effectively. This should make it easier to track down hackers and spammers, as there will be no NAT for them to hide behind. While this is a fair point, security commentators are guarded about how effective this will prove to be. “It will only really begin to be effective at stamping out this kind of e-mail abuse when it IPv6 becomes widely adopted,” says Mohammad Noraiee, managing director of Al Adeeb Information Technology, the master distributor for Sophos in the Middle East. “Of course, we cannot expect virus writers and spammers to rest on their laurels, they will continue to develop methods to distribute their wares. IPv6 won't kill off viruses and spam in one technological leap, but every effort should be welcomed,” he adds. While no one suggests that building IPsec into IPv6 as a requirement is a bad idea, many say that the new protocol is no more robust than existing IPv4 with IPsec deployments. “IPv6 promised improved security and quality of service,” says Yasser Helmy, business development manager, HP Procurve. “But there have been no significant breakthroughs in either of these, with not one QoS feature added from IPv4. As for security, IPv6 just makes IPsec a mandatory feature as opposed to it being optional in IPv4. Advances in security features in general and network address translation (NAT) have obstructed the progress of IPv6,” he adds. Tom Scholtz, vice president of security & risk strategies for Meta Group, agrees that IPv6 offers nothing significant in terms of security and says that he has not seen clients cite security as a driver in moving to IPv6. Indeed there is a school of thought, particularly prevalent in the US, which asserts there is no need for IPv6. This argument suggests that IPv4 is still a robust platform and that IT and network managers have their hands full with more immediate concerns such as security and convergence. They say that IPv4 is resilient, with the use of NAT devices theoretically allowing IPv4 addresses to be extended indefintely. NAT allows a company to map its local inside network addresses to one or more global outside IP addresses and unmaps the global IP addresses on incoming packets back into local IP addresses. This allows a company to share an IP address between many users, although only one can connect to the internet through that IP address at any time. It also helps ensure security since each outgoing or incoming request must go through a translation process that also offers the opportunity to authenticate the request. With NAT and IPv4 still going strong, many vendors have not yet brought IPv6 to the forefront of their agendas. Adtran is a good example of a networking vendor in no hurry to migrate to IPv6. “We currently have IPv6 on our roadmap, but I would say that we are at least a year away from [implementing] that,” says Kevin Barnes, business development director for EMEA at Adtran. “We are currently not being pressured by customers to move to IPv6 but we know this is something we will eventually need to support,” he adds. A further inhibitor for IPv6 is the massive job entailed in the overhaul of legacy systems. When you consider the size of the internet and all of the devices that hook up to it, replacing all of these will obviously take some considerable time. “IPv6 has been in the making for almost eight years now and support is readily available from both applications and network providers,” says Hani Nofal, Gulf & Levant sales manager, 3Com Middle East. “Still, the sheer number of applications currently running over IPv4 is such that the general expectation is that the full conversion may take another decade. Just consider all the web URLs, older PCs, and so forth that will need updating,” he adds. With IPv4 and IPv6 being incompatible, companies looking to mix and match must select translating techniques. These techniques allow for a gradual migration, which would obviously suit most companies looking to shift to IPv6. Adopters of the technology must bear in mind what they need to change on the network. Etisalat favours IPv6 tunneling in its tests. “We use the normal IPv4 internet connection and tunnel an IPv6 connection between devices in the same way that a VPN tunnel is created. Most of our testing is done through tunneling and this allows a gradual migration,” says Salim. In the early years of the migration, support will also be a key issue, with the IPv6-based network sure to need special treatment. “ IPv6 is currently not a must for companies in the Middle East,” says Helmy. “Early adopters will be technology focused companies with a large number of well educated, well trained IT staff, who will be needed to support such a bold endeavour,” he adds. Many commentators are sceptical about the benefits and momentum of IPv6 and there will no doubt be intense debate about how long the transitional period will last. However, there are strong signs, such as Sony announcing that all of its new products will be IPv6 enabled from this year, that IPv6 is here to stay. The protocol will form the basis for the next stage of the internet, which will be to extend the internet to people wherever they are or wherever they see a commercial opportunity. IPv6 is more of a service provider issue at present than a burning question for the enterprise but the with the need for IP addresses already marked and many more devices set to become IP-enabled, IPv6 is sure to inch itself into the enterprise agenda in the coming years. “Large corporations, service providers and governmental agencies will be the first to complete the transition,” says Nofal. “Smaller organisations will lag by many years, unless a killer application requiring IPv6 emerges that is appealing to the wider public. Such an application might be as simple as the wide distribution of music to networked MP3 players,” he adds.||**||

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