The widespread adoption of a new version of the internet protocol (IP) moved closer to reality today following the news that Cisco Systems and Microsoft plan to incorporate it into their products this year.
Version 6 of the protocol (IPv6) was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to solve problems caused by the limitations of the current IPv4 specification, which can support only a few billion individually identified systems. The new version replaces the old 32bit addresses with 128bit addresses, enabling it to support virtually limitless individual systems.
But Microsoft has now said that it will introduce an IPv6 stack for Windows 2000, while Cisco said it would upgrade its IOS quality of service software to support the protocol.
Although products from Sun Microsystems, Nortel Networks and 3Com have supported IPv6 for some time, Jim Bound - co-chairman of the IPv6 Forum's technical directorate and a principal member of the technical staff at Compaq Computer - claimed that the promised support from Microsoft and Cisco would mean other vendors were sure to follow.
"These are the two vendors that are absolutely critical to IPv6. It means the competition among vendors will increase 10 times, which is good for the market and good for IPv6," he said.
Microsoft has made a technology preview of IPv6 available for free download from its website. The company said this is aimed at Windows 2000 developers to enable them to prepare their applications for transition to the new protocol. Microsoft had previously only released a prototype built by its research group.
Cisco's hardware and software will also support IPv6, including version 12.1(5)T of its IOS software onwards, which is scheduled to ship in October. Future versions of IOS will include advanced IPv6-related features and improved performance.
Steve Deering, a Cisco fellow and co-chairman of the IETF's IPv6 working group and the principal designer of IPv6, said deploying the new protocol had been a long process, but is now coming to fruition.
"We knew when we started that this would probably be a 10-year process. Trying to get IPv6 deployed is not like deploying a new application such as a web browser because it entails updating routers and operating systems inside the host," he said.
"It's been a long process of first agreeing on standards and then getting the various vendors to do implementations. We've gone through those stages and now we're starting to see supported products appear."
Deering added that while he also expects other hardware platforms to support the protocol, they are at least a year away.
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