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IPv6 shows signs of life

A supercomputing firm is teaming up with MCI to figure out how to make the next-generation IPv6 protocol work with legacy applications.

Cray Inc., a Seattle-based supercomputing giant, and MCI Inc. are joining forces to test new software for the next-generation Internet -- better known as IPv6.

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) provides more IP address space than the currently used version 4. It also offers integrated security and mobility features, and supports auto-configuration to help correct a majority of the Internet's current shortcomings.

Despite the new protocol's advantages and its increasing implementation across Asia, the United States is just beginning to adopt IPv6.

Kevin Gatesman, senior manager of emerging technologies at MCI, said the Internet service provider soft-launched services to a handful of U.S. corporate and government clients in January. Cray is the first commercial U.S. customer to publicly announce its usage of MCI's IPv6 overlay network that rides on its global IP backbone. An overlay network routes data between end-hosts on the Net.

"A lot of our customers are starting to think seriously about [IPv6]," Gatesman said.

He said with its IPv6 transitioning and usage experience, MCI is now applying its lessons learned to enterprises such as Cray. Gatesman said he's learned "there's more to it than just routers" and making the legacy applications and systems compatible with the new protocol version is one of the transition's biggest challenges.

Darren Dehnke, a network engineer at Cray, said IPv6's next-generation capabilities allow developers to perform interoperability testing and develop IPv6 software and applications for the Cray X1 supercomputer product line.

Dehnke said it was an easy decision to invest in IPv6 today because of its bright prospects.

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"The future of IPv6 depends largely on the growth of native applications," Dehnke added. "As more and more applications take advantage of IPv6, the demand for IPv6 networks will grow."

Dehnke said Cray's cost of overlaying IPv6 on its existing Internet service was minimal, and the company is happy with the service; it has not experienced a problem thus far.

Gatesman said MCI has noticed that IPv6 is quickly becoming a request for proposal (RFP) prerequisite for customers either renewing their service contracts or searching for new connectivity. The market realizes IPv6 is on the horizon, Gatesman added, and is demanding carriers to plan ahead for it.

Gatesman said IP address space is the primary driver today, and indicated that as the market transitions the two IP versions will co-exist for several more years.

According to Gatesman, the need for IPv6 grows as wireless phones and PDA devices become increasingly sophisticated and Internet enabled. Gatesman predicted that once IPv6 is in full effect and there are literally trillions of available IP addresses, everything from kitchen appliances to automobiles will have addresses assigned to them.

MCI is currently offering an IPv6 overlay service free to any customer of its dedicated Internet access services in the U.S., Europe and Asia. MCI said it plans to offer native IPv6 services later this year.

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