Microsoft Releases Plans for IPv6 Implementation in W2K

Microsoft Corp., which has been cited as a potential roadblock to IPv6 implementation, recently set a date for release of its IPv6 naming convention specifications. Also, developers who plan to use IPv6 can now take a peek at the Windows 2000 APIs.

Numerical IP addresses have been in short supply since the explosion of Internet-connected PCs. With the advent of Internet enabled phones and appliances on the horizon, the need for more IP addresses is expanding fast. IPv6 is a new naming convention that uses 128-bit addresses. This provides more unique address than the 32 bits the current IPv4 standard uses.

A Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) implementation is important, but it won't make or break IPv6. The standard will have to be implemented across the industry. "You have to have all the vendors working to get dissemination into the network," says Elisabeth Rainge, analyst at IDC (www.idc.com). She says leading network vendors such as Nortel Networks Corp. (www.nortelnetworks.com), Cisco Systems Inc. (www.cisco.com), and others, will have to support IPv6 for the change to occur.

Naysayers of IPv6 cite kludges such as network address translators (NATs) and proxy servers that allow several desktops to use the same IP address for reducing the need for change. Ron Cully, lead product manager for Windows networking at Microsoft, believes otherwise. "It will happen because the tools are Band-Aids, not treating the root problem," he says.

A Band-Aid-free network is a reasonable goal, but Rainge says, "There’s always going to be a need for a certain level of workarounds." Creating a standard, by nature, ultimately leads to some users’ needs being ignored.

In the enterprise, NATs and proxy servers are often valued for the fact that they don’t give each computer a unique, static IP address. With these technologies, users are unable to perform advanced functions on the Internet, including hosting Web sites from their desktop machines. Obscuring computers from the Internet at large also provides a measure of security from outside intruders.

Cully stresses that these are side effects of the kludges, not the intent of NATs or proxy servers, and that these security functions can be accomplished easily enough with IPv6.

Microsoft does not intend to implement IPv6 for several operating system releases. Instead, the intent of the specifications is for developers to create IPv6 applications for Windows platforms. Microsoft is perhaps attempting to gain credibility in the high-end network space.

Cully expects two years of IP stack development, and another two years of broad-scale testing before IPv6 hits the enterprise. Rainge agrees that the transition will be slow since it has to be pervasive.

Like enterprises who implement Windows 2000 alongside older systems, Microsoft and others expect IPv4 and IPv6 to coexist for some time.

In addition, routers and switches need to support IPv6 natively to perform at a reasonable level. Support from major backbone vendors such as Cisco and Nortel are more significant factors in the success of IPv6 than implementation by PC vendors.

What does Microsoft’s involvement mean to the enterprise? With implementation far on the horizon, and satisfactory workarounds available, users have little to expect soon, but much to hope for. "It’s a useful technology," Rainge says.

Microsoft was a sponsor of the IPv6 summit March 13-16 in Telluride, Colo. The summit included representatives across the computer industry advocating the implementation of IPv6.

The developer’s specs are available at: http://msdn.microsoft.com/downloads/sdks/platform/tpipv6.asp.

A group of users have already implemented IPv6 on a small scale, dubbing their implementation the 6bone (www.6bone.net).