IPv6 expanding slowly, but the time for planning is now

CHICAGO—The California IPv6 Task Force is making plans to roll out a pilot network using the new version of the Internet Protocols for state and local first responders within the coming year.

The program, to be called MetroNet6, is in the early stages of development. Jim Bound, chief technology officer for the North American IPv6 Task Force, said at the SuperComm trade show yesterday that the network probably would use 802.11 wireless networking to connect police, fire and emergency medical personnel at the local level. The MoonV6 test bed network could provide a nationwide command and control link.

The Internet Protocols are the set of rules defining how computers and network devices communicate with each other. The Internet primarily uses Version 4 of the protocols now, but the global network is rapidly outgrowing the capacities of IPv4. The new set of protocols, in development for the past year, promises more secure and simpler end-to-end communications, with a greatly expanded address space that will level the playing field for those parts of the world that do not have access to the limited number of IPv4 addresses.

Most major vendors of networking hardware and software include some form of IPv6 capability, but deployment of the new protocols has been slow. It is limited mostly to test beds and pilot projects, even in Asia, where demand for the new technology is greatest.

"This is not a new technology," said Yanick Pouffary, technical director of the North America IPv6 Task Force. "But it's a technology that is being worked on. It must be worked on constantly."

Latif Ladid, chairman of the international IPv6 Forum, said the Defense Department's decision to move its networks toward IPv6 will help to spur the transition globally.

"Defense is always a first driver," for such a move, Ladid said. "The DOD decision is a prime mover, not only in the U.S. but in the world." He said Europe has been lukewarm on moving to the new protocols, waiting for U.S. leadership in this area.

The transition will take place at different speeds in different parts of the world, depending on local and regional needs, the speakers said. It will likely be fastest in Asia.

"We expect China will have the largest commercial production backbone network in the world in the next few years," Ladid added.

Pouffary said that that the technical upgrades to a network would be the easiest part of the process. Technical analysis of the network and building a business case are necessary first, and probably will prove the most difficult.

"Don't confuse the technical and business plans," she said.

She also said there is no end date for a worldwide transition to IPv6, but that network administrators should begin planning for the shift. "When to transition depends on many factors," she said. "But the time to start planning is now."

She praised said the DOD model of phasing the new protocols in over a period of years, upgrading equipment through its technology refresh cycle rather than as a capital project.

Bound said MetroNet6 is in the proposal and analysis stage, and the California task force hopes to receive state funding for the program as well as vendor support. He said the network probably would begin in Sacramento, with a command and control center in Palo Alto.

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