Fermilab moves toward next-generation Internet protocol

Phil DeMar, Network Analysis and Architect Manager for the Core Computing Division, wrote this column.

Phil DeMar

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the Internet’s next-generation protocol, designed to replace Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4), the version that has been in use since the inception of the Internet. The Core Computing Division has begun to roll out IPv6 support for several basic services.

Why are we doing this now? The U.S. federal government has made a commitment to deploy IPv6. The Office of Management and Budget has established specific IPv6 milestones for federal agencies to meet. The aim of our IPv6 efforts is to meet those milestones. However, there is a larger purpose here. IPv4 address space in the Internet has essentially run out due to the explosion of the number of devices requesting Internet addresses. The impetus for deploying IPv6 is to enable the Internet to sustain its incredible growth curve without resorting to address kludges.

How will these changes affect users? We anticipate users should not be affected at all. They may notice the familiar four-byte IPv4 addresses (131.225.xxx.yyy) being replaced by much longer 16-byte IPv6 addresses (2001:400:2410:50:3d8e:e20a:bf50:39e2). Fortunately, humans normally use words and names rather than nonsensical strings of characters to access Internet services. The underlying address formats typically remain invisible to users.

The laboratory’s externally facing domain name servers (DNS) already support IPv6. By the end of September, externally facing email gateways and public web servers will also support IPv6. These steps will enable users who are away from the laboratory and on the general Internet to use IPv6 to access those services. In addition, the Core Computing Division has already begun plans to provide IPv6 support for internal user systems such as desktops, notebooks and tablets. However, implementation of internal IPv6 support is still one to two years down the road.

In deploying IPv6, we’re doing our part to promote the Internet’s future. We will meet our IPv6 milestones, and do so without noticeable impact to users.