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IPv6 network's a go for Verizon, others

IPv6 has become a focus for Verizon and other service providers as IPv4 addresses disappear.

Verizon is upgrading its public IP network to utilize both IPv4 and IPv6 by 2009 and hopes the move will ease the transition to the latter protocol as available v4 addresses dwindle and before federal agencies and contractors face a mandatory v6 switch over next year.

"There will not be any immediate value for switching to IPv6," said Daniel Awduche, a Verizon Business Fellow. "Instead, it's a long-term strategic investment to avoid large switch-over costs later."

The company's move to a dual-stack architecture, which supports both v4 and v6 connectivity, has been almost a decade in development. Verizon originally began experimental v6 service in 1998 and has been testing deployments ever since on larger and more complex scales. Currently, dual-stack access with a Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) core is available in major markets throughout North America and Europe. The North American rollout is targeted to be completed in 2008, with Asian-Pacific and European rollouts set to be completed within the next year.

At this point, few businesses will be able to take advantage of IPv6's more advanced features, which include multicasting and mechanisms for ensuring data integrity and privacy.

For some companies, however, there will be plenty of impetus for converting to the new protocol. Analysts estimate that the current reserve of 32-bit IPv4 addresses will run out between 2009 and 2014, and a June 2008 deadline for government agencies to have v6 deployed has spurred vendors to provide migration solutions at a faster rate.

"There's a lot of different points of view about the issue of IP address exhaustion," said analyst Brian Washburn of Current Analysis Inc. Washburn said he believes that for the majority of enterprises, v4 still has years of life left in it. "The real issue here is that the government has mandated use of IPv6 in its contracts in [June] 2008."

For federal and federally-contracted deployments, careful planning is essential to make sure that all the assorted services -- including FTP sites, firewalls and key business logic -- mesh well in a v6-enabled network. Also, a new infrastructure means the possibility for new modes of attack.

"They have to be very cognizant of security," Awduche said. "For example, there are some routers and firewalls that provide very good filtering for IPv4, but when it comes to IPv6, they are deficient."

The looming deadlines do not mean current networking operations have to be completely scrapped. By being aware of v6's requirements, Awduche said, businesses can continue to implement a v4 strategy that will align with a staged switch to the newer protocol. For example, many major vendors are, by default, providing routers that are compatible with both protocols, and Windows Vista has v6 enabled by default. Overall, Awduche said the transfer requires preparations similar to those before Y2K.

"That's pretty accurate from the telco point of view in terms of the processes that they have to touch," Washburn said. "It's not really the same for businesses. The entire world runs on IPv4."

Washburn added that many businesses, particularly those not tied to the 2008 cutoff date, would have a much simpler transfer, as the majority of the Internet will likely be IPv4-accessible for about five more years, and possibly a decade.

"The business needs an incentive to cross over to IPv6, and these days there's not much of an incentive to do that," Washburn said.

To help those that do become v6 adopters adjust to the switch, Verizon has a variety of connectivity offering s depending on the customer's needs. The most flexible and generally the most cost-effective offering is a dual-stack v4/v6 offering that allows both protocols to be used with minimal disruption. Pure v4 and v6 products are available as well, as is an IPv4 connection that customers can tunnel an IPv6 connection through. Clients worried about possible v6 security holes may choose to run both pure v4 and v6 connections to help control and mitigate risk.

Washburn said it was refreshing that Verizon is releasing 18-month roadmaps for clients to see where the company is headed, and that he expects many of its competitors to follow suit in offering dual-stack access. He said Sprint will have its offering available in Spring 2008 and AT&T is widely expected to offer the service around the same time.

"There is actually plenty of experience working with the protocol," Washburn said, noting that v6 was originally developed in the mid-'90s. "What's really new here is the dual-stack architecture."

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