August 27, 2007

IPv6: Internet in for Retooling

Excerpt from Electrical Wholesaling Magazine

A new Internet protocol has created a Y2K moment for network providers such as IDEA.

Some have compared it with changing the engines on a moving airplane, others speculate that purveyors of pornography will benefit most. To most Internet users, the change may go unnoticed. But for Tom Guzik and his team of consultants and technical staff at the Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA) in Arlington, Va., the transition to a new Internet protocol recalls the run-up to the year 2000, when programmers everywhere were working around the clock, racing to upgrade computer systems before a hard deadline.

The urgency comes from a mandate sent down by the U.S. government that starting in June 2008, everyone who wants to do business with the Department of Defense (DOD) must do so over networks equipped to handle Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). Many electrical distributors do huge business with the DOD, and some of the largest do so over IDEA’s IDX2 network.

The transition is hardly trivial. It involves substantial changes to base-layer coding on the network, reconfiguration or replacement of routers and other networking devices, hours upon hours of work and substantial costs.

Guzik, IDX2 product manager, asked his programmers to estimate what it would take to get the IDX2 reconfigured for IPv6 by the end of the year. They gave their professional opinion: "It can’t be done." Faced with no choice, Guzik brought in a consulting engineer to look at the code and the details of the IPv6. The engineer’s answer: "We’ll have to start right now."

IPv6, a complete rethinking of the Internet protocol that governs how data moves across the network, offers a solution to a problem that’s not yet a problem, but will be soon. The Internet is running out of IP addresses. Every device that connects to the Internet must have a unique address. With the explosion of Internet usage seen thus far, and the added surge that will come as telephone signals and electronic appliances increasingly communicate over the Web, the pool of ten-digit addresses in the current IPv4 will soon be exhausted. IPv6 replaces them with a 20-digit address protocol that makes the available number of addresses essentially limitless.

IPv6 has many other advantages over IPv4 that will result in better security, mobility, stability and speed. Making the change by the end of the year so the system can be tested and verified before the June deadline will require both stability and speed from the IDX2 technical crew, and perhaps patience and perseverance as limitless as the pool of addresses IPv6 will create.