IPv6 product testing needed, experts say

IPv6 products need more conformance testing. That's the conclusion of network industry heavy hitters AT&T, Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft and others, which are developing products that support IPv6, the next generation of the Internet's main communications protocol.

Sixteen vendors recently completed a third round of interoperability tests on Moonv6, the largest native IPv6 backbone. Moonv6 is a joint operation of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) InterOperability Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Defense, the North American IPv6 Task Force and the Internet2 university consortium.

The latest round of tests involved approximately 80 servers, switches and routers at 10 military and university sites from New Hampshire to Arizona. Moonv6 was founded last year and has held prior interoperability test events in March 2004 and October 2003.

The latest tests ventured into new areas, including VoIP, wireless LANs and streaming video via multicast. Several firewall features were tested, as well as specific protocols, including IPSec, DNS and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. Routing, tunneling and QoS were included.

The Moonv6 consortium will issue a report on the latest tests next month.

"The underlying infrastructure of IPv6 is solid," says Erica Williamsen, Moonv6 technical manager. "The real work needed now is for vendors to fine-tune their implementations and interoperability, and for service providers to adopt and deploy it."

The Moonv6 tests are designed to help boost commercial deployment of IPv6, which is lagging in the U.S. behind Europe and Asia. The only major U.S. organization to commit to IPv6 is the Defense Department, which has a policy that requires all of its network hardware and software to be IPv6-compliant by 2008.

Developed by the IETF, IPv6 promises easier administration, tighter security and an enhanced addressing scheme over IPv4, the Internet's current protocol. IPv6, which uses a 128-bit addressing scheme, supports a virtually limitless number of uniquely identified systems on the 'Net, while IPv4 supports only a few billion systems because it uses a 32-bit addressing scheme.

Moonv6 testers -- which included about 30 network engineers from vendors, UNH and the Defense Department -- found configuration issues with several IPv6 applications, participants say.

"There were lots of configuration and stability issues with VoIP," says Gerard Goubert, voice and wireless manager at the UNH lab. "From our side, the network was fine but some remote sites had problems."

Goubert says the VoIP configuration problems were expected because the technology is so new.

"It was mostly just configuration of the test equipment so it would fit into the scenario we were trying to test," Goubert says. "It was nothing strange or abnormal."

Getting VoIP to work over IPv6 is important, says Mark Fishburn, vice president for technical strategy at Spirent Communications PLC, which provides test methodology and equipment to Moonv6.

"The No. 1 service that service providers intend to deploy next year is voice-based services, and (IPv6) could be an important element of that," Fishburn says. "IPv6 is real for us because service providers are testing it, and equipment manufacturers are putting it into their products."

Moonv6 testers found some firewalls were not implementing IPv6 stateful functionality requirements correctly and that some IPv6 applications didn't support user authentication.

But the IPv6 multicasting tests went smoothly.

"Once we had it all configured, multicast worked on the first try and we ran it for several days straight," Goubert says. "I was very impressed. We had 13 machines running multicast."

Moonv6 participants also ran the first test of iSCSI, an emerging network back-up and storage protocol, over IPv6. Microsoft engineers involved in the iSCSI test formatted and mounted a remote disc over IPv6 using iSCSI and then copied files to it as if it were a local disc. Four discs were connected at once.

Moonv6 organizers say network vendors need to refine their IPv6 implementations to improve the interoperability of their products with those from other companies. However, they say they have discovered no major technical roadblocks for IPv6 deployment.

"The major hurdles that we've encountered are more configuration-related than protocol-related," Williamsen says. "But users are going to have to learn IPv6. It's not a simple transition."

Williamsen says continued IPv6 conformance testing will make it easier for enterprise network managers to deploy IPv6 applications.

"There's a great need for future testing in firewalls, security, IPSec and newer applications like (Session Initiation Protocol), multicast and streaming video," Williamsen says.

The current round of tests ran from Oct. 30 until Nov. 12.

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