IPv6: Out On the Bleeding Edge

What better way to prepare for your transition than by examining the foundation laid by global IPv6 test beds?

By Mark A. Miller | Posted Apr 25, 2007
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The first tutorial in this series considered the history and requirements for Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6, and our second installment looked at the enhanced capabilities that the new protocol brings to the market. But except for the daring few, most of us would rather let someone else be on the forefront of a new technology, and be content to observe their trials and tribulations before we jump into the fray ourselves.

In this, our third installment in the series, we will review some of the global networks that have served as test beds for IPv6, and also look at some of the other industry resources that are supporting this new protocol.

From our previous discussions, recall that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) chartered the Internet Protocol – Next Generation (IPng) Working Group, which was subsequently renamed the IP Version 6 Working Group. In the decade or so that the group has been active, it has been primarily responsible for moving the protocol development through the various stages of the IETF standardization track – from Internet Drafts to Request for Comments documents to Proposed Standards to Draft Standards, and then finally to Internet Standards. For example, the baseline IPv6 document, RFC 2460, and the IPv6 addressing specification, RFC 4291 are both considered Draft Standards. To reach this Draft Standard level, at least two independent and interoperable implementations of the protocol or process must have been developed, plus sufficient operational experience must have been obtained, thus assuring the Internet community of the viability of this new technology.

Several worldwide experimental networks have been used to provide that verifiable IPv6 experience. The first one of note was the 6bone Network, which phased out of operation on June 6, 2006 after almost a decade of operation. The 6bone was a worldwide network, with oversight from the IETF NGtrans (IPv6 Transition) working group within the IETF. It started out as a way to transport IPv6 packets over the existing IPv4-based Internet using a process called tunneling, and later evolved into a network that supported IPv6 directly.

The 6bone also served as a testing environment for the new addressing formats. Recall from our previous tutorials that one of the most significant enhancements to IPv6 is the move from 32-bit to 128-bit addressing formats, and that anything that is address-related, such as routing protocols and routing tables, requires modification. Included in the addressing research were mechanisms for testing the new routing protocols, such as RIPng (Routing Information Protocol – next generation, documented in RFC 2080; the Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) protocol for IPv6, documented in RFC 2740 (see ftp://ftp.rfc-editor.org/in-notes/rfc2740.txt); the Domain Name System (DNS) extensions to support IPv6, documented in RFC 3596; plus packet routing, converting IPv4 to IPv6 addresses, and other addressing-related functions. Like most of the work from the IETF, the phase out of the 6bone network was very well planned, announced in March 2004, and published in RFC 3701.

A second test network for IPv6 was called the 6REN, the IPv6 Research and Education Network, sponsored by the Energy Sciences Network (Esnet), the network for the Energy Research program of the U.S. Department of Energy at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Where the 6BONE network used the existing IPv4-based Internet as the transport mechanism, the 6REN network was strictly based on IPv6 for all routers and hosts, so that the IPv6 protocol was deployed on an end-to-end basis, with no tunneling involved.

Another North American test network is named Moonv6, which is a global effort led by the North American IPv6 Task Force, the University of New Hampshire's Interoperability Laboratory, the higher education Internet2 Project and a number of technology vendors. The unusual network name was coined from a discussion as to whether or not the U.S. Government should take the IPv6 technology as serious as the NASA project to put a man on the moon during the 1960s. This project encompasses two parts: lab testing of vendor products to determine IPv6 functionalities, and a worldwide IPv6 network for application sharing and end-to-end testing.

The European community also participated in IPv6 testing with 6NET, a three year project involving 35 organizations representing the commercial, research and academic sectors in 16 different countries. This project built a native IPv6 network to test a number of IPv6 services and applications, and to gain interoperability experience with existing applications.

This work concluded in June 2005, but elements of the research were continued with the IPv6 Dissemination and Exploitation (6DISS) network, which provides training and knowledge transfer in eight developing regions around the world. This work is funded by the Information Society Technologies Program of the European Union, and will conclude on September 30, 2007.

Another European initiative is the Euro6IX network, a project that will research, design and deploy a test Internet exchange backbone network throughout Western and Central Europe. This work is underwritten by a consortium that includes telecom operators (such as British Telecom, France Telecom, Telecom Italia, and others), the Universities of Madrid, Southampton, and others, plus manufacturing, consulting and government organizations.

Test networks are not the only sources of deployment and information transfer regarding the new protocol – there are many members of the vendor community that are firmly behind the IPv6 technology. Our next tutorial will examine some of these other key resources that can speed your IPv6 deployment along.

Copyright Acknowledgement: (c) 2007 DigiNet Corporation(R), All Rights Reserved

Author's Biography

Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation(R), a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Implementing IPv6, and the Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

Article courtesy of Enterprise IT Planet

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