IPv6: The Future is Now
While some talk of the slow adoption of IPv6, at least one expert, who is at ground zero of the impending IP implosion, says the melt down of the Internet is already underway. According to Steve Deering, Cisco Fellow and lead designer of the IPv6 protocol, the delay in the roll-out of IPv6 has already resulted in the inability to deploy new services and lost opportunities for the future.
"The consequences of not having adequate IP address space are already being seen and the problems will only become worse as time goes on," warned Deering.
If anyone knows IPv6, it's Steve Deering. Besides being one of lead designers of the protocol, he's currently a participant in the Internet Research Task Force's End to End Research Group, a member of the Internet Architecture Board, and co-chair of the IETF's IPv6 working group. As a member of Cisco's Advanced Internet Architectural Group, he's active in the development and standardization of architectural enhancements to the Internet protocol.
NATs Not Working
Deering explained that Network Address Translators (NATs) currently in use work only with certain styles of applications. "They work for client-server applications where there are a relatively small number of servers."
Web and e-mail servers fall into this category where the server receives a public address and the clients share addresses behind translators. But, there's more to it. "Things like IP telephony, peer-to-peer gaming, or other applications where you have servers that you access remotely don't work through network translators," said Deering.
The main benefit of the IPv6 protocol is a dramatic increase in the number of available IP addresses. IPv6 expands the current address space available under IPv4 from 32-bits to 128-bits.
Most predict that the four billion addresses available under IPv4 will be depleted by the year 2005. Under IPv6, the number of available addresses will jump from the current four billion to 340 trillion trillion trillion, more than enough to handle needs far into the future.
No Room For New Services
Deering also pointed out that the limited nature of the current addressing protocol (IPv4) has prevented the deployment new types of services.
"We are basically stuck with those things that work through NATs," he observed. "If all the universities had been behind NATs in the 1990s, we probably would never have gotten the Web. This begs the question of what other services and great applications we are failing to get because they can't be deployed in today's Internet."
All sorts of new devices and applications are on hold until the fundamental problem of address space is solved. Smart refrigerators that order food when the supply runs low, home alarm systems linked to the police department, cars that talk to dealers and schedule their own maintenance along with an endless array of handheld devices and smart cell phones that talk directly to data banks, news organizations, and librariesall need unique IP addresses.
A number of patches to IPv4 have been implemented to stretch the available address space and keep this 20 year old technology viable in the current environment. While this has worked up to now, it is, at best, a temporary solution.
"The patches we have put into place to survive with IPv4 have made the Internet more fragile and resulted in more single points of failure," said Deering.
The ability to diagnose problems is yet another pitfall of the current protocol.
"It's much harder to manage and understand the network when it's not working properly," he noted. "The situation is complicated because it comes at the same stage where we are trying to convince everyone to move all applications and commercial traffic onto the Internet. If the world is going to depend on the Internet, it's important to maintain a robust and reliable infrastructure. It's a serious problem."
The major infrastructure providers and equipment manufacturers agree on this point and are moving to implement IPv6. Cisco is among the most aggressive in this area. They have announced an IPv6 translation router that is slated for release later this year.
Meanwhile, they've made IPv6 available in their IOS software release 12.2(2)T. The IPv6 upgrade is available as a free download from Cisco's website. The upgrade covers the majority of their currently available routers. According to a Cisco press release, "Cisco is delivering the industry's most widely tested and deployed IPv6 router solution."
In addition to Cisco, Intel, 3Com, Ericsson, Telebit, Hitachi, Nortel, and 6WIND have or are working on solutions for implementing IPv6 and/or translating from IPv4 to IPv6. Host support is available for BSD (Berkeley Systems Development), Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Linux, Microsoft, SCO Unix, and Sun Microsystems operating systems as well as others.
IPv6 is not perfect. It's a compromise that grew out of a lot of tradeoffs. "It builds on the architecture of IPv4, which has proven to be very successful. But we're at the stage where the original design is at its scaling limits. We need IPv6 to restore the ability of the protocol and keep the original design going," said Deering.