Change of address

New addresses are on the way, in the form of IPv6. As yet the system has made little real impact on day-to-day IT projects, but this is set to change in the near future. NME gets the lowdown.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  December 7, 2006

|~|ipv6200.jpg|~||~|Slowly but surely, IPv6 is happening. Most IT professionals will have at least heard of the new addressing system, set to replace IPv4, but at present few will have had to deal significantly with it, outside of specialist applications. IPv6 is simply a new system of internet protocol addressing, designed primarily to provide many more addresses than IPv4 (IPv5 never saw the light of day, being only an experimental system for audio and video streaming). For an idea of scale, IPv4 supports just under 4.3 billion addresses (232), while IPv6 supports 2128 addresses – a longer number than can comfortably be printed, and indeed more IP addresses each than can the mind can comfortably conceive. “For somewhere like the Middle East, where there’s huge growth and huge deployment of new technology, I think we’ll probably see IPv6 come hear possibly earlier than the UK, for example – it’s a bigger issue here than in Western Europe,” says Trevor Dearing, EMEA product marketing manager for networking and applications at Juniper. “If you’re looking at somewhere like Korea, where there are so many mobile devices, you will definitely need IPv6.” Dearing points out one of the main reasons for this is the dominance of the US when it comes to IPv4 allocation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their country holds most of the existing IP addresses in the world, only 30% of US government IT managers are concerned about IPv6 adoption. IPv6 is not a new development – it was adopted by the Internet Task Force in 1994. Even in the Middle East, internet service providers have been looking at the system for a number of years. Just one example is the UAE’s Etisalat – it has been working with IPv6 since at least 2001; its IPv6 website can be seen at http://lab.ipv6.ae/. The applications for IPv6 are clear; as the numbers of mobile devices in use proliferates, and technologies such as Wi-Fi, WiMax, Bluetooth, RFID and Ultra wideband (UWB) promise to extend the local and personal area networks even further, allocated IPv4 addresses will very soon run out. But the new system does more than add new addresses. It also has inherent quality of service (QoS) capabilities, as well as a much more flexible header system. This makes IPv6 very suitable for applications such as voice and video. By allowing packets to carry much more information about their contents and priority, the system gives real-time applications much greater flexibility. The other side to IPv6 is its mobility capabilities – again befitting a system which will favour mobile device proliferation. It can allow devices to roam much more easily between networks, without having to reconnect and reassign an IP address. Juniper’s Dearing explains: “In terms of mobility, if you’re roaming between wireless networks – starting on network A, for example, then moving into network B – IPv6 can allow you to keep your IP address from network A while on network B, having it ‘care-of’, as it were. So when we get 3G and IP phones, IPv6 will become a key requirement.” These technical capabilities make it a compelling system. But the question for enterprise network managers is if they should adopt it – or even if they should care. The answer is almost certainly yes, at least in the near future. The key factor is what sort of interaction an organisation will have with mobile devices, and how it deals with service providers. “There are probably more reasons to use IPv6 than not use it; but probably the main reason why organisations would not do it, or are slow to do it, is dealing with the transition,” says Dearing. “It’s a question for them of how to manage the transition – if it’s a large enterprise with hundreds of devices, interfacing to other parts of the network, and dealing with SP networks on IPv4, how does it deal with that mess? That’s where the challenge creeps in.” Dearing says most routers will be able to handle IPv6 with no problems, but many switches may still have challenges. Looking beyond the network core, enterprises will have to investigate the status of their terminal devices, and network management systems to check if they will support the new addressing system. The first task for an enterprise looking at IPv6 and considering whether to adopt is to consider how much of a priority adoption is, based on the newer features and other factors. “When you decide the priority, you then need to build a fairly detailed plan,” continues Dearing. “This involves auditing nearly every device on the network, to see whether it will or won’t handle IPv6. And if it won’t, how do you then cope with it, how does it fit into the plans, do you need to change it, do you not need to change it – is this device a showstopper for IPv6? These are the sorts of things that become the issues.” Currently, IPv6 is almost certainly in the ‘nice to have’ category of IT projects – the majority of organisations will not need to worry about it at this stage. But within only a few years it will become much more of a consideration. For organisations implementing new systems, IPv6 should be an important point to consider.||**||

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