December 2, 1996 10:00 AM ET
Next-generation IP spec edges closer to reality
By Lisa Wirthman

  The final pieces for the next-generation IP come up for standards review next week, as software and hardware vendors slowly ramp up their implementations of IP Version 6.

Members of the Internet Engineering Task Force standards body will meet in San Jose, Calif., to hammer out the final details for Version 6 of Internet Protocol, the base pipeline of the Internet. IPv6 is designed to solve the problem of dwindling Internet address space; it also will add security features and improve routing dimensions.

SunSoft Inc. is one of the vendors getting ready to test IPv6 support. The company will begin

alpha testing in January its implementation of the protocol in the Solaris operating system, said Kuljeet Kalkat, Solaris group marketing manager at SunSoft, in Mountain View, Calif. SunSoft's first implementation of the protocol, due in late 1997, will be a dual IPv4/IPv6 stack to phase customers over to the new version in stages.

Digital Equipment Corp. also is testing IPv6 in its 64-bit Digital Unix operating system, though a commercial release has not been set, said officials at the Maynard, Mass., company.

Although only about 80 percent of the IPv6 specification is complete, "the basic pieces are fairly settled," said Kalkat.

Final IETF resolution of the specification could take at least another year, but vendors are expected to release supporting products before then.

"If tomorrow there was a huge interest, we would be able to put out a release without fear that the standard would shift," said Kalkat.

Whereas the current IP Version 4 standard is a 32-bit protocol, Version 6 provides a 128-bit space for a virtually unlimited number of Internet addresses. Without the new spec, experts predict the Internet would run out of address space within the next five to 10 years.

IPv6 also builds security features directly into the IP header to authenticate users and encrypt data.

In addition, the new protocol will enable plug-and-play configuration of Internet addresses for devices, Kalkat said. Users will no longer need system administrators to connect their mobile devices to the Internet because addressing information built into the devices will enable servers to communicate directly with the clients, he added.

The new version of the protocol also establishes rules to better organize routing tables for more efficient data transfers.

"Sending a message on the Internet right now is like sending a piece of mail labeled 'USA,'" Kalkat said.

Router companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. also are working on implementations of IPv6.

Cisco has a number of IPv6 routers currently running on an experimental IPv6 network, said Peter Long, manager of IOS product marketing for the San Jose, Calif., company. Cisco is continuing to update its implementation but doesn't predict a huge customer demand for the protocol until the end of next year.

For one IT manager, the sooner vendors deliver IPv6, the better.

"It's not unreasonable to hypothesize that [Internet service providers] will move us quickly in that direction," said David Pensack, senior research fellow for advanced computing technology at E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., in Wilmington, Del. "If we're not prepared, we'll be up a creek."

Highlights OF IPv6

  • Increases IP addresses to 128 bits

  • Improves routing dimensions

  • Enables auto-configuration of IP addresses

  • Includes built-in security to authenticate users and encrypt data

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