ESnet Rolls Out IPv6 Network Management System

June 15, 2009

Although it has been a network protocol standard for more than 10 years, IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) has only been minimally implemented by the networking community. But that could change now that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) has deployed a production IPv6 management system across its entire network.

ESnet is one of the world’s leading networks supporting the research and education community, serving tens of thousands of scientists at national laboratories and universities across the country and linking them to collaborators in the U.S. and around the world. By transitioning its network management system to IPv6, ESnet will both broaden the acceptance of IPv6 and gain hands-on experience in using the protocol to manage a national network.

Developed under the auspices of the Internet Engineering Task Force IPv6 working group, IPv6 was designed to dramatically increase the number of available Internet addresses, making it easier to assign address and route traffic across networks. Although available on nearly every computer system, IPv6 has only been deployed on less than 1 percent of the Internet-enabled machines around the world.

Mike O’Connor, an ESnet network engineer behind the network management rollout of IPv6, said the low deployment is a chicken-and-egg situation. “Since very few applications have been developed to take advantage of IPv6, it hasn’t been widely adopted,” O’Connor said. “And since it’s not been widely deployed in production, relatively few are writing applications compatible with IPv6.

ESnet will use the IPv6-based network monitoring system to continuously monitor the performance of its network. Typically, the monitoring system “polls” all of the network devices, such as routers and interfaces, at 30-second intervals. If a problem is detected, network operation staff are automatically alerted to the situation so it can be resolved.

While the system provides critical data on the network, it will also provide important information on the performance of IPv6 itself, O’Connor said. About 80 percent of ESnet’s extensive network infrastructure will be monitored by the new system by the end of June.

The adoption of IPv6 management by ESnet is part of a concerted effort by the Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense to widely deploy the new standard protocol, therefore helping widen its deployment. Through its deployment, ESnet will also be in a better position to help other new users get on board, O’Connor added. In fact, he is already getting requests to share his experience with other users.

While ESnet was an early IPv6 adopter and participated in developing the standards for the protocol, only recently have all the key components come together to make management deployment viable. The software firm CA recently released CA Spectrum V9.1 of its network management software and Juniper Networks also made its router operating system JUNOS compliant with IPv6, allowing ESnet to develop a reliable production system.

According to O’Connor, the transition of the network management system to IPv6 addressing for ESnet quickly uncovered protocol configuration issues that otherwise would have taken much longer to find in the most remote corners of the network. “By continuously monitoring via IPv6 and over time upgrading the remaining 20 percent to systems supporting management over IPv6 ESnet is aggressively moving to be as proactive in IPv6 support as it is has long been known for with IPv4,” O’Connor said.