When 4 billion addresses isn't enough...

Did the earth move for you? There are big changes afoot that will affect millions of computer users in the UK and around the world as a result of an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting held recently in Toronto. The changes in TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) will affect not only the millions of academic and government users of the world’s first (and currently only) global network, the Internet, but also millions of businesses that use TCP/IP at the core of their commercial networks.

"This must rate as one of the biggest changes ever to be proposed in the computing industry," commented Alan Fynn, Director of RTC Communications. RTC Communications is a division of RTC plc, a UK company with divisions specialising in retail solutions, network integration and support services. "Extreme care must be taken by companies now to minimise the effect of the changes that will occur in the not too distant future."

At the meeting a new Internet Protocol standard chosen as the next generation was named as IPng. The nominated protocol, SIPP-16, evolved from two other IPng proposals that have been under review for almost two years, Simple Internet Protocol (SIP) and P Internet Protocol (PIP). The resulting IPng standard was chosen as the best means to overcome the problems in the current implementation, Version 4.

One principal benefit deriving from the new IPng standard will be the expansion of the number of available Internet addresses. IPng creates more potential addresses by expanding the address size from the current 4 bytes to 16 bytes. Another benefit of the new proposals is an end to the often frustrating experience of installing TCP/IP and configuring it to work on computers that is running other protocols such as Novell’s IPX/SPX.

"Critics of TCP/IP as a corporate networking standard have made a lot of noise that the Internet was a victim of its own popularity. No doubt, without the new standard, the Internet would have felt the Big Pinch before the year 2000," explained Fynn. The Internet currently has over thirty million users and is growing at a rate of about ten percent a month, in effect doubling the number of users every year. "With everyone jumping on the Information Super Highway bandwagon, its obvious that this new standard has arrived just in time."

Mark Norman of Unipalm

With the new 16-byte addressing scheme, there will be plenty of room for expansion. However, the move to IPng will be a trial for many systems administrators and the growing number of companies that provide Internet connectivity and services. Mark Norman, marketing director for Unipalm, said "As the UK’s largest commercial Internet provider, our division PIPEX has been anticipating the change for some time. Now that the details are starting to emerge, we will be putting our migration plan into action to minimise the disruption for business customers that use the Internet."

RTC Communications has been a developer and supplier of TCP/IP software for a number of years. "Having written our own TCP/IP stack, we are well placed to implement the coming changes and provide additional functionality to our customers at the right moment, " argued Fynn.

The current IETF plan calls for IPng to completely replace the current IP Version 4 protocol. As a result all bridges, routers and gateways that create the Internet, as well as any IP-based networks that communicate with it will have to conform to the new IPng standard on the day of implementation. The transition will need to be as smooth as possible because the Internet is no longer just an academic experiment. "The Internet and TCP/IP networking are a vital part of business communications. Changes mean money must be spent - and it must be spent in the most cost effective manner for users to continue to extract value from their networking investments," explained Fynn.

While the date of implementation has not been set, it is not expected to occur until later in 1995 at the earliest. "There is no rush but neither is there a lot of time to waste because the changes will be, forgive the apparent hyperbole, global," explained Fynn. "It is the equivalent of our UK Phone Day next year -- only without the period of parallel running."

The task force considered, and rejected as impractical, a suggestion that users employ dual protocol stacks during a transition period. "That could cause even more confusion," explained Fynn. "Although the idea sounds good at first blush, it would cost users more money in the end."

Transitional issues are being decided by two IETF working groups -- the NG Transition Working Group and the TACIT (Transition and Coexistence Including Testing) Working Group. They will be tasked with testing IPng implementations, the first of which are due by the autumn. The IPng draft specification is scheduled to be submitted as an IETF Request for Comment (REC) by November. The first production implementations of IPng are expected to roll out by next December.

"We plan to have our product ready for testing in the near future," said Finn. "Although the first shrink wrapped packages will start appearing as early as December next year, we have a commitment to our commercial customers to provide uncompromised quality. We will be ready for the transition when it comes, make no mistake, but we don’t see any merit to being first past the post in a pointless race."

While the announcement of IPng settles an issue that has been long under discussion, there are still some points yet to be finalised including authentication within IP datagrams. The new standard also calls for auto-configuration and there are a number of ways that that requirement can be met. Restructuring of Domain Name Services and IP packet routing issues will also provide challenges for the task force.

"TCP/IP is a major force in the networking world, even Microsoft who is well known for following their own standards, is toeing the line and will be providing a current implementation of TCP/IP in their Windows 4 (Chicago) product that is due out early next year. The decision by the task force to put their stake in the ground for IPng shows that standards based computing doesn’t always trail behind the leading edge of technology as some would contend.

"RTC Communications embraces the news of the new standard as an opportunity to be turned to the advantage of our many customers across Britain and Europe," concluded Fynn.

Back to the issue 5 contents page...

Back to the infoHIGHWAY home page...