Embracing the Future

Several months ago, I advised you in this column that you might want to take some time to learn about the next version of the Internet Protocol, IPv6. I suggested that as the addressing scheme of the current version of IP (IPv4) runs out of steam in the coming years, you might find learning about IPv6 to be an interesting academic exercise.

Recently, IPv6 evolved from an academic exercise to a practical concern for Windows NT network managers. You can now download and test an IPv6 protocol stack for Windows 2000 from Microsoft's research organization.

You missed my column on the subject last year? Here's a summary: IPv4's 32-bit address architecture is nearing the end of its lifecycle. As the Internet continues to grow exponentially, IPv4's fundamentally wasteful address allocation system and inefficient routing characteristics are pushing it over the brink of practicality. In fact, if it weren't for the introduction of Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) in the mid-90s, the Internet would be dead by now.

Fortunately, the more robust next generation of IP, IPv6 -- sometimes called IPng -- is working its way through the final stages of protocol acceptance. Where can you get a test version of IPv6 for Windows 2000? You'll find the download link, along with Microsoft's official line on IPv6, at http://msdn.microsoft.com/downloads/sdks/platform/tpipv6.asp. You'll need the released version of Windows 2000 Professional or Server -- sorry, no betas -- to install it, and must accept it as is, without support.

What can you do after you've installed it? For starters, you can connect to the prototype of the next Internet: 6Bone (www.6bone.net). At this early stage a direct connection to 6Bone is not for the faint of heart. But if you can afford an IPv6 router, a special ISP connection, and some time dealing with the red tape of 6Bone registration, you can hook a test network of IPv6 NT machines to thousands of similar network pioneers all over the world.

Instead of total IPv6 immersion, and you would rather just like to get your feet wet, visit www.freenet6.net. A Canadian IT consulting firm, Viagenie Inc., offers a tunneling option -- encapsulating IPv6 within IPv4 to get onto the 6Bone -- through this site.

Need more information before you make your move? Visit IPv6's unofficial home page at http://playground.sun.com/pub/ipng/html/ipng-main.html. You'll find several informative links there, including links to IPv6 implementations for other operating systems. You can watch a general, but informative, IPv6 realplayer Webcast with IPv6 leader Robert Hinden, at www.technetcast.com/hz-show-980508.html.

At this stage of the game, tuning into IPv6 will feel a little like ham radio to you. You'll have to read between the lines of sketchy documentation, sometimes imagine documentation that isn't there yet, and bear with connection outages and maybe even a few blue screens. But someday, when IPv4 hits the fan, you'll be ready to bring your organization into the Internet's next generation. --Al Cini is a senior consultant with Computer Methods Corp. (Marlton, N.J.) specializing in systems and network integration. Contact him at al.cini@computermethods.com.