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Cisco: IPv6 is Coming, Eventually

Written By: C. McNulty
Published On: April 6 2000

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Event Summary

Network World Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), the leading provider of Internet routers, affirmed for the first time that its software and hardware products will support IPv6, an enhanced version of the communications protocol that underpins the Internet.

Cisco says it will support IPv6 in Version 12.1(5)T of its Internetwork Operating System (IOS) software, scheduled to ship in October. Later versions of IOS will provide advanced IPv6-related features and improved performance, and future hardware platforms will support IPv6, according to Cisco Chief Technology Officer Judy Estrin.

"Cisco is committed to IPv6, but we're committed to integration, not transition," said Estrin, who made her remarks at the IPv6 Global Summit here. Estrin said the challenges to IPv6 deployment are not technical, but rather the education of end-users and the development of a business case for the technology. "We must not harbor the illusion of a killer application," she said.

In an interview after her speech, Estrin said only a handful of Cisco's enterprise customers have asked about IPv6. "Users don't know that they need it," she explained. "I don't think the industry has done a very good job of explaining the cost/benefit analysis of going to IPv6."

Market Impact

Since July 1996, the Internet Engineering Task Force has been testing IPv6 on the 6Bone, an experimental Internet backbone that runs the next generation IP protocol. According to Bob Fink, a chairman of the IETF's 6Bone efforts, IPv6 is currently supported by router vendors Nortel/Bay, 3Com, Digital, Hitachi, Nokia, Sumitomo and Telebit. Cisco is coming late to the party, but it's coming.

This increases pressure on Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to get its own IPv6 project out the door. Microsoft is developing IPv6 software in conjunction with USC, and made their software publicly available on 20 March 2000.

Cisco and Microsoft are the 800-pound gorillas here. Once Cisco and Microsoft ship IPv6 products, application vendors will follow suit. But don't hold your breath. Although Cisco support is targeted for October 2000, Microsoft won't ship it until the "next" release of Windows. Microsoft doesn't support IPv6 on Windows 95/98 or on Windows NT. And it took over three years from the 1996 release of Windows NT 4.0 to the February 2000 release of Windows 2000.

Accordingly, we do not expect any significant IPv6 software in the next two years. However, the IETF expects the industry transition to be completed around 2005 or 2006. To wit, Japanese telecom giant NTT recently became only the first major ISP to offer commercial IPv6 service in the U.S.

User Recommendations

Estrin's comment that users don't know that they need IPv6 is telling. Vendors have generally done a poor job explaining why IPv6 will be important to users. Here are four.

Networks Everywhere

IPv4, the standard currently in use, provides a theoretical 4 billion possible Internet addresses. This sounds like more than it is. The IETF forecasts running out of available Internet addresses by 2010. This means that ISPs tend to hang on to Internet addresses closely, requiring businesses to "give back" addresses as they change ISPs, because ISPs themselves have a limited allocation of IP numbers.

IPv6 will change this. What does its 128-bit addressing mean? About 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,700,000,000 possible addresses. (Or, according the Plexos.com, about 67 billion billion addresses per square centimeter of the planet.) This means that business will be able to keep their IP addresses as they change vendors.

It is hard to forecast what this explosion of addresses will mean. The near term possibilities for adding portable, wireless, and home networking devices are big. Long range, the simple answer is that everything - car keys, chicken dinners, shoes - will theoretically have a network address. Considering the explosion that took place when Tim Berners Lee added hypertext capabilities to IPv4 and invented the World Wide Web, the long-range possibilities are astronomical.

Security

Today, Internet communication can be encrypted and authenticated, but only via software or hardware add-ons at each end of communication. IPv6 includes security in its basic specification, including packet and sender authentication.

Time Sensitive Data

IPv6 includes support for real-time, streaming data types, such as video or voice over IP (VoIP). It will be simpler to mix and match Internet-based phone systems.

Plug and Play

IPv6 includes plug-and-play type functions. This promises to make it easier if you "suspend" your laptop at the office, and reconnect later at home on a broadband network, for example.

Unfortunately, none of these advantages will be manifest in the next two years. Obviously, given the choice between IPv6-enabled and IPv6-disabled systems, we recommend the former. But it's not yet a critical buying factor.



 
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