TELLURIDE, COLO. (03/20/2000) - Two heavyweight holdouts - Cisco and Microsoft - last week threw their support behind IPv6, giving the long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's primary communications protocol a much-needed boost.
Both companies announced plans to support IPv6 in software that will be released this year: a Cisco IOS upgrade and Microsoft's IPv6 stack for Windows 2000. The announcements were made at the IPv6 Global Summit, a gathering of 150 network developers and engineers held in Telluride, Colo.
For corporate network managers, the Cisco and Microsoft announcements are a sign that IPv6 is getting closer to being ready for production environments.
IPv6 products are already available from Sun, Nortel Networks and 3Com.
"These are the two vendors that are absolutely critical to IPv6," says Jim Bound, co-chair of the IPv6 Forum's Technical Directorate and a principal member of the technical staff at Compaq. Bound adds that these announcements mean "the competition among the vendors will increase 10 times . . . which is good for the market and good for IPv6."
Alain Durand, a researcher at Sun and co-chairman of the Internet Engineering Task Force's working group on IPv6 transition issues, says it's important that the two vendors will be shipping IPv6 products this year. "There's a big difference between a prototype and a product," he says. "Corporate customers won't buy it if they can't get support."
Developed by the IETF, IPv6 solves the network address limitation problems of the current IPv4 protocol by replacing IPv4's 32-bit addresses with 128-bit addresses. Because of its longer addresses, IPv6 can support a virtually limitless number of individually identified systems on the 'Net, while IPv4 can support only a few billion such systems.
IPv6 promises network managers the opportunity to rid their networks of problem-prone address translation devices that act as intermediaries between public and private Internet addresses used with IPv4. IPv6 also offers built-in security and support for advanced multimedia applications.
Despite its benefits, IPv6 has been slow to catch on. Until now, few commercial products were available. The Cisco and Microsoft announcements are notable because they mean IPv6 will be built into Internet routers, network operating systems and applications, making it easier for network managers to upgrade to IPv6.
Cisco says it will support IPv6 in Version 12.1(5)T of its IOS, scheduled to ship in October. Later versions of IOS will provide advanced IPv6-related features and improved performance, and future hardware platforms will support IPv6, according to Cisco Chief Technology Officer Judy Estrin.
"Cisco is committed to IPv6, but we're committed to integration, not transition," says Estrin, who urged the IPv6 community to develop tools and techniques that allow network managers to integrate IPv6 with IPv4.
"The current IPv4 infrastructure is stretched," Estrin says. "The larger address space in IPv6 offers advantages and efficiencies. But we must have implementation methods that ensure smooth integration of IPv4 and IPv6."
Cisco's plan is to roll out IPv6 in several phases. The first phase is support in IOS. Next Cisco will integrate IPv6 with other Internet standards, including Multi-protocol Label Switching, IP Multicast and voice over IP. Eventually, Cisco will build IPv6 into its hardware devices.
Milo Medin, chief technology officer of Excite@Home, questioned whether Cisco would provide IPv6 support that is as fast as IPv4. "The devil is in the details," Medin says. "If they don't have the performance and tools that you get with IPv4, how useful is it to service providers? To the extent that they have technology that does IPv6 well, it's good for everybody."
Meanwhile, Microsoft will release today its IPv6 Technology Preview, an IPv6 stack for Windows 2000 that software developers can use to create IPv6 applications. Previously, Microsoft offered only a prototype IPv6 stack developed by its research group.
"This is the second step in Microsoft's rollout of IPv6," says Richard Draves, a senior researcher at Microsoft. Draves says IPv6 will be included in the next major release of Windows 2000, followed by full IPv6 support across all Microsoft products. "We are taking our prototype and turning it into product," he says.
Draves also said that within a month or two, Microsoft will release an IPv6-compatible version of Internet Explorer that is expected to be the first Web browser to support IPv6.
In fact, Microsoft announcements are likely to put pressure on other software vendors, such as iPlanet (formerly the Sun-Netscape Alliance), Oracle, Eudora and Apache, that have not yet committed to IPv6.
"The minimum tools we need to give users are Web browsers and e-mail clients," Durand says.
In other IPv6 product news:
Compaq announced it would support IPv6 in Version 5.1 of its Tru64 Unix, which is due in September, as well as Version 6.0 of its OpenVMS, which is due in March 2001.
Sun, which bundles IPv6 support in Solaris 8, demonstrated a simple tool for porting IPv4 applications to run on IPv6 systems that the company plans to commercialize soon.