February 14, 2000
BERKELEY, Calif. -- A few years from now, the Internet could become
a victim of its own success. Its dramatic growth -- often cited
as 15 percent growth per month in number of users connected and
as much as a factor of 10 growth per year in Internet backbone bandwidth
required to support them -- could overburden the current infrastructure,
resulting in networks held together with cyber baling wire and virtual
One of the biggest long-term growth and scalability problems for
the Internet is the lack of sufficient address space to globally
address all systems with the current Internet Protocol (known as
version 4, or IPv4). A new version, called Internet Protocol version
6 (IPv6), has been adopted as the next generation (IPng) network
layer protocol standard. The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy
Sciences Network (ESnet), managed by Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, is now leading the effort to roll out IPv6 to the Internet
"IPv6 is another example of what ESnet is all about -- providing
leadership to the Internet community," said James Leighton, head
of ESnet. "There is a pressing need to revamp the undercarriage
of the Internet, and IPv6 is the approach we've agreed to take.
ESnet has decided to provide an early stimulus by getting IPv6 out
to our customers."
IPv6 is the result of more than five years of international collaboration
by members of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). They have
developed a new protocol which will allow the Internet to seamlessly
overcome existing barriers to expansion as well as providing new
features, such as addressability for many more networks and user/server
systems, as well as easy and highly automatic configuration. The
Internet Protocol is the basic tool of standardized connectivity
on the 'Net, allowing various networks and nodes to communicate
with each other.
To help get the IPv6 ball rolling, ESnet has requested and been
assigned the very first production IPv6 addressing prefix by the
American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and is using it to
provide IPv6 services to ESnet users, said Bob Fink, Associate Head
for Network Research at ESnet and co-chair of the IETF IPv6 Transition
planning Working Group.
ESnet, which provides high-speed connectivity to thousands of scientific
researchers at more than 30 Department of Energy sites, has established
a production IPv6 network initiative, called the 6REN, to provide
stimulus for Research and Education Networks worldwide to provide
early production native IPv6 service.
In addition, ESnet and CANARIE, Canada's advanced Internet development
organization, have joined together to provide the 6TAP (or IPv6
Transit Access Point), a common connection and "peering" point for
all worldwide IPv6 networks. The 6TAP is located at the Science,
Technology, And Research Transit Access Point (StarTAP) facility
at the Ameritech Network Access Point (NAP) in Chicago.
The 6TAP will enable the 6REN initiative to demonstrate early scientific
applications operating using IPv6 by interconnecting IPv6 networks.
Initial applications at the University of California in San Diego,
Osaka University in Japan and at Argonne National Laboratory in
Illinois will lead the way by demonstrating the operation of very
large electron microscopes over the Internet using IPv6.
"Our goal is to prove the viability of using IPv6 to run scientific
applications using IPv6 technology and the ubiquity of the Internet,"
ESnet grew out of networking efforts started 25 years ago to allow
scientists around the country to tap into a supercomputer in California.
That bold (at the time) concept helped pave the way for many networking
capabilities taken for granted today, such as videoconferencing
and remote access to computers.
One of the biggest problems with the current IPv4 is that it uses
32-bit addresses, allowing about 4 billion addresses to be assigned.
However, given the necessary assignment practices in use today,
the actual number of usable addresses is much smaller. The explosive
growth of demand for addresses could result in rationing, requiring
new organizations to use patchwork technologies to provide connectivity.
Because IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses, it offers a theoretical maximum
of about 256 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses. This should
allow the Internet sufficient addressing scalability to keep up
with the current and future growth rate of the Internet, thus allowing
for universal addressability and reachability using Internet technology.
Other features designed into IPv6 include built in security, dynamic
automatic configuration, multicast, mobility, quality of service
and a more efficient format that will ultimately allow routing systems
to operate more efficiently.
"The Internet model of everyone connected everywhere is getting
ready to break," Fink said, "and while it can be patched together
in the short term, the long-term solution is IPv6, which will maintain
the viable, scalable architecture on which the Internet is built."
Getting IPv6 into widespread use presents something of a chicken-and-egg
problem, Fink said. Manufacturers are waiting to incorporate IPv6
technology into routers and user systems until users demand IPv6.
Conversely, demand for IPV6 is currently low because there is not
widespread support of IPv6 in routers and systems yet.
"Because IPv4 and IPv6 can coexist in routers and user systems,
and are compatible in that Internet applications will operate the
same over either one, Internet users won't see an immediate difference
between the two," Fink said. "In fact, the two protocol versions
are likely to coexist for the next 10 to 15 years as IPv6 is implemented
and users switch from IPv4 to IPv6.
"We're all in this together," Fink said of the Internet community,
"and maintaining that global connectivity is important for scientific
research, for our economy and for everyday communication. IPv6 is
the key next step to keeping us all connected."
ESnet (www.es.net) is operated
for the U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory. Berkeley Lab (www.lbl.gov)
conducts unclassified research and is managed by the University
of California for the Department of Energy.