IPv6 Requires Learning Curve for Network Admins

Business IT managers be forewarned: Implementing networks with the emerging Internet Protocol Version 6 standard will take substantial preparation, including training developers and IPv6 administrators charged with provisioning office applications.

"We've found a gap in the knowledge of administrators and IPv6 developers. There's a learning curve in setting up these environments," said Erica Johnson, the IPv6 consortium manager at the independent InterOperability Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.

Johnson said her team discovered the knowledge gap during a recent test of IPv6 with 13 vendors' applications, including Adobe Systems Inc.'s Dreamweaver and Microsoft Corp.'s MeetingPlace.

Johnson said the test showed some successes, including the ability to send a complex transmission over a fail-over link that kicked in quickly when a primary link failed. However, the test, which was performed June 18 to 22, also revealed that problems developed for system administrators setting up IPv6 networking. The concerns were over the implementations and not the actual IPv6 protocol, she noted.

"It's not intuitive to an administrator what's IPv6-capable and what's not, and what supports what, so we had to walk [the testers] through the process," she said. "That's not going to work and can slow a person down many days." She cited as an example one administrator who was setting up a file server with IPv6, a process that took about a month.

The implications for businesses include the fact that IT managers need to do an inventory of what network nodes will remain on IPv4, and what will be implemented on IPv6 as a business grows, Johnson said. In addition, human resources departments need to be prepared for added training costs to prepare network engineers.

"We got a lot of questions on how you set this up. We had to step back and say there's definitely a learning curve here," Johnson added.

IPv6, the emerging IP networking standard, offers businesses worldwide the promise of a seemingly infinite number of IP addresses, and that will help make it possible to network the explosion of new servers, laptops, phones and printers.

Experts predict the added addresses will be needed because the current IPv4 address spaces will be exhausted between 2010 and 2012.

Johnson said U.S. companies haven't been stonewalling on IPv6, but she can't name one company in this country that has adopted the new networking standard. "I don't get a good sense that the enterprise has really started this transition," she said, but noted that federal agencies are moving forward. Some businesses in Asia are starting to implement IPv6, she noted.

The greatest success in the InterOperability Laboratory's latest trials came with what is known as the site multihoming capability of IPv6, or SHIM6. In that test, the Waterford Institute of Technology sent a movie from Ireland to Durham, N.H., over two channels operated by two different service providers, and when one link went down, the other link continued the download with only a one-second delay.

"It proves that IPv6 works," Johnson said.

In all, the UNH test lab has conducted almost 24 tests over the past three years on IPv6, but the previous ones have been mainly about the capability of the Internet backbone and related functions to operate with IPv6. Now the focus has turned to office applications. In the future, the lab will test e-mail, instant messaging and other applications, such as customer relationship management, Johnson said.

Other applications tested in the June trials came from Alcatel-Lucent, Command Information Inc., CounterPath Solutions Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Hexago Inc., Ixia, Juniper Networks Inc., Konica Minolta Holdings Inc. and Xerox Corp.

The lab operates with annual fees from vendors of networking and data communications products that want to test their technologies in a variety of areas, including how well they support IPv6 and other standards. Founded in 1988, the lab employs 125 people and has US$20 million worth of donated equipment.

This story, "IPv6 Requires Learning Curve for Network Admins" was originally published by Computerworld.

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