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IPv6 – Ready for Prime Time? – Part I: History and Design Criteria

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Attention students,

Name one emerging information technology that all of the following vendors support in their products: 3Com, Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia, Nortel Networks, Novell, Siemens, and Sun Microsystems (to name a few)?

If you answered IPv6, you would be correct.

But is the IPv6 technology embedded in all these vendors’ products ready for prime time in 2007? More importantly, is it ready for a prime time deployment on your enterprise network in 2007?

This tutorial begins a six-part series in which we will examine that question over the course of the next few months. During that time, we will look at the history, requirements, technological enhancements, vendor support, implementation strategies, and network management challenges of Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6 as it is most frequently called. We will see why this technology is touted as the protocol that will enable the Internet to support the next generation of end users and their high-bandwidth, multimedia applications.

Let’s begin with a brief history lesson.

The origin of the Internet goes back to the 1970s during the days of the ARPAnet – short for the Advanced Research Project Agency Network – an experimental packet switching network sponsored by the United States Department of Defense. By the early 1980s, the commercial promise of the technology was clear, with the specifications for the two fundamental protocols, the Internet Protocol, or IP, and the Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, complete and published in 1981. (In brief, IP is a Network Layer protocol that performs packet addressing functions and routing functions, and TCP is a Transport Layer protocol that assures end-to-end reliability. In almost all cases, these protocols operate in conjunction with each other, so the term TCP/IP is frequently used, meaning that both TCP and IP are operating on the network.)

A protocol is a set of rules, which product managers, hardware designers and software developers depend upon when designing their products. Thus, with the rules (or specifications) for both IP and TCP published and gaining more traction by the day, a change to those rules became increasingly more difficult.

That became even more challenging by the 1990s, when the Internet as we know it today became a full-fledged commercial enterprise, with support from both companies and end users around the globe. The entrenchment of these protocols was further underscored by the exponential growth that was occurring within the Internet during the last few years, as more and more devices, now including cellular telephones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are connecting to the Internet.

However, by the early 1990s, it became apparent that the growth in number of users, plus the anticipated emerging applications, such as multimedia and broadband services, would put a severe strain on the capabilities of the Internet, and that its underlying protocols, especially the (then) current version of IP, known as IPv4, would require an update. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) chartered a new working group named Internet Protocol – Next Generation, or IPng, and in December 1993, they issued Request for Comments (RFC) 1550, entitled IP: Next Generation (IPng) White Paper Solicitation.

In that document, interested parties were invited to submit comments regarding any specific requirements for IPng, or any key factors that should be considered during the IPng selection process. The responses were considered in developing another key document, RFC 1726, the Technical Criteria for Choosing IP, the Next Generation (IPng).

Seventeen criteria were stated, including:

  • Scale – the IPng Protocol must scale to allow the identification and addressing of at least 1012 end systems and 109 individual networks.

  • Transition – the protocol must have a straightforward transition plan from the current IPv4.

  • Media Independence – the protocol must work across an internetwork of many different types of LAN, MAN and WAN media.

  • Configuration, Administration and Operation – the protocol must permit easy and largely distributed configuration and operation. The automatic configuration of hosts and routers is required.

  • Multicast – the protocol must support both unicast (one-to-one) and multicast (one-to-many) packet transmissions.

  • Network Service – the protocol must allow the network to associate packets with particular network service classes, and provide the packets with the services specified by those classes.

  • Mobility – the protocol must support mobile hosts, networks and internetworks.

Several proposed protocols were evaluated vis-à-vis these criteria, with those evaluations published in January 1995 with RFC 1752, The Recommendation for the IP Next Generation Protocol. That document specified the key features of IPng, including larger addresses, enhanced routing capabilities, authentication and encryption to strengthen security, quality of service functions, and more. It also gave the IPng protocol a new name, IPv6.

Our next tutorial will examine these key technical attributes of IPv6, so that you can begin to determine if those capabilities are ones that you will need to enhance your enterprise’s communications capabilities.

Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2007 DigiNet Corporation®, All Rights Reserved

Author’s Biography

Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation®, 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.

This article was first published on

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