IPv6 grabs support from Wind River, Microsoft

With backing from Microsoft Corp. looming on the horizon, IPv6 [Internet Protocol version 6] deployment got a shot in the arm this week from embedded OS player Wind River Systems Inc., which announced a network stack that supports the newest version of the Internet protocol.

In September Wind River will ship WindNet IPv6, a collection of IPv6 networking stacks that runs on top of the operating system, giving its customers a "jump start" on building IPv6-enabled devices, said Glenn Flinchbaugh, director of marketing at Wind River's networks business unit. WindNet IPv6 will also include a TCP/IP stack.

Meanwhile, Flinchbaugh said that Microsoft is planning to issue a service pack upgrade to Windows XP to add support for the protocol and will offer native support for IP v6 in Longhorn, the next version of its operating system. Microsoft could not be reached for comment.

IPv6 can accommodate trillions of IP addresses and is seen as a much-needed solution for IP-addressed starved countries, such as those in Asia, where addresses are running out, according to Flinchbaugh.

The current Internet protocol, IPv4 can accommodate approximately 4 billion unique addresses, but a majority of those have been allocated to the United States, which has a surplus. China, for example, is allocated only 19 million IP addresses for the entire country, whereas Stanford University alone has 17 million, said Eric Mantion, a senior analyst for Networking Technology at In-Stat/MDR in Scottsdale, Ariz.

IPv6's capacity would level the playing field. "You could give every cell in every human body a distinct IP address with IPv6. It's in the trillions," Mantion said.

With enough IP addresses to go around, any device can have its own fixed address allowing for a widespread sharing of digital media as devices communicate directly with one another, as in a true peer-to-peer architecture, rather than going through the network.

"Sony is looking at it all across the board for connected consumer devices," Flinchbaugh said.

IPv6 could also make technologies such as Sun's Jini and Microsoft's Universal Plug 'n Play easier to implement, according to Mantion.

One industry analyst lauded Wind River for its research and development with IPv6, but added a cautionary note.

"They are doing a lot of good research and development as far as product, but there are limited lab funds to perform IPv6 trials, and carriers and service providers are more interested in maintaining their network infrastructure and in cost containment," said Todd Hanson, principal analyst for telecommunication at Gartner Dataquest in San Jose, Calif.

To support IPv6, many believe that every router would have to be physically touched and current Internet hardware and software would have to be upgraded to IPv6 packets. It can also affect a network's ability to support RSVP (ReSerVation Protocol), IPSec and Mobile IP, Hanson said.

"It may be years out before all major commercial backbones support IPv6. Even the cost benefit analysis is a huge undertaking" Hanson said.

However, there may be another force driving a speedier implementation. Because the next version of the Internet protocol can rid networking of sub-nets, it can add a higher level of security, according to Mantion.

"A terrorist or hacker couldn't hide behind the router's IP address. Even if they use a laptop you may not know where they are, but you will know who they are," Mantion added.

(David Legard contributed to this article.)

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