Get in early with IPv6 skills to meet predicted surge in demand
What is it?
Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) is the next generation communications protocol for the internet. IPv6 is backward compatible with and is designed to fix the shortcomings of IPv4, such as data security and maximum number of user addresses.
Networking supplier Cisco estimates that the US has been allocated two-thirds of the address space available under IPv4, and Gartner estimates that the available space will be exhausted by 2006 at the latest. This hits particularly hard in Asia, where, for example, the whole of China has fewer addresses than some US ISPs.
IPv6 tackles this with its 128-bit address space, expanding the pool of potential addresses by trillions to take account of the cars, fridges and other devices that are ultimately expected to go online. But "next generation" IP offers a lot more.
Europe and the US have been slow to take up IPv6, which has been ready to use for several years. The EU has been funding research for nearly a decade, with little commercial take up. But with Asia racing ahead, US corporates and Scandinavian phone manufacturers are putting serious effort behind IP6.
Where did it originate?
In 1994 the Internet Engineering Task Force predicted that 32-bit address space under IPv4 would run out before 2011, despite temporary fixes such as Network Address Translation. In 1998, the Internet Engineering Task Force published a draft standard for the core IPv6 protocols. IPv6 was taken up by the Japanese Wide Internet project. A global test network centred in Europe, 6bone, is rapidly gathering participants.
What is it for?
IPv6 is designed both for high-performance networks such as 10 Gigabit Ethernet and low-bandwidth local area and wireless networks. It is interoperable with IPv4, and intended to be installed incrementally, in the form of software upgrades, with IPv6 routers added at the margins. The transition is expected to be gradual, since many users still see no benefits from IPv6 that would justify the disruption.
What makes it special?
Integrated end-to-end security, an improved addressing schema, and more efficient routing and auto configuration to reduce administrative costs. Mobility features tacked on to IPv4 have been built into IPv6.
How difficult is it to master?
Those with existing IPv4 skills should learn to implement IPv6 in four to seven days.
Where is it used?
The biggest IPv6 network is Cernet in China. The "IPv6-ready" logo appears on products from Asian electronics giants - Samsung, Hitachi, Panasonic, Fujitsu, NEC, Chunhghwa Telecom - plus IBM, HP, Cisco, Nokia and Ericsson. Some European telcos, such as France Telcom, and many Asian telcos offer IPv6 services. In the UK, University College London and the Universities of Southamption and Lancaster have all been active in IPv6 work, together with BT's research facilities.
Not to be confused with
Intellectual property. IPv6 is open and non-proprietary.
What systems does it run on?
IPv6 is available for most implementations of Unix and Linux, Windows Server 2003 and XP, Macintosh, OS/390 and OpenVMS.
What's coming up?
Longhorn, the next major release of Windows, will have IPv6 built in as the default protocol. Users will be able to switch off IPv4 when they are ready.
IPv6 training is available from network suppliers and network training specialists. There is little demand as yet, but a surge in demand is predicted for later this year or 2006.