This week, the next generation of the Internet came one step closer to adoption when the North American IPv6 Task Force, a division of the IPv6 Forum, announced that it had finished the second round of testing on a coast-to-coast Internet Protocol Version 6 ( IPv6) overlay network.
Engineers tested a number of complex functions on the network, including firewalls, quality of service, multimedia applications and 10 Gigabit high-speed links, all with positive results.
"From our point of view, this was an important project to undertake," said Rick Summerhill, director of backbone network infrastructure for Internet2, a group of universities and businesses that promote IPv6 and which participated in the two-week test. The test, dubbed Moonv6, took place in a region that stretches from New Hampshire to California.
"It allowed basic testing of applications," he said. "It was crucial to rollout."
IPv6, often referred to as the next generation of the Internet, is a protocol that supports a far greater number of IP addresses than IPv4, which will make it possible to Internet-enable many more devices. While IPv6 has not yet been widely adopted in the United States, there are many Asian networks that are being built from the ground up with IPv6.
Peter Christy, a principal with the Los Altos, Calif.-based NetsEdge Research Group, said that these kinds of practical tests are necessary for a technology as broad as IPv6. "This is the only way to attempt to define a protocol clearly enough so that, if independent organizations implement it, they will all work together," he said.
The first round of testing, conducted in October 2003, focused on basic routing protocols. The second round, however, focused on more sophisticated functions.
During two weeks in March, the many organizations involved in the project tested 10 Gigabit links and discovered that they achieved line rates of throughput. They also tested domain name system (DNS) on several operating systems, including Linux, Microsoft's Windows, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP-UX.
In addition, the group tested a number of applications, including voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) video and wireless links.
While IPv6 is not yet on the mainstream corporate agenda, there are some niche markets where it will appear. For example, the Department of Defense has mandated that all branches of the U.S. military switch to IPv6 by 2008. The Defense Department, which participated in the test, said that mobility and the increased security available with IPv6 are the two reasons why the military is pushing development of the technology.
Other organizations will likely take longer to adopt the technology, particularly in the United States, Christy said. Even though IPv6 offers great benefits, it also requires a significant infrastructure conversion that many businesses will not jump at today.
Nonetheless, Rose Klimovich, vice president and general manager of AT&T's VPN services, also a participant in the test, said that a number of AT&T's customers have begun to ask questions about IPv6.
Though testing is officially over on the network, it will remain operational indefinitely, according to Ben Schultz, IPv6 managing engineer at the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Laboratory, which hosted the test.