DURHAM — Though there was some public fanfare, one of the biggest changes in the development of the Internet has been unfolding slowly but surely. And the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory has been on the front lines of testing the networking capabilities for the new system known as IPv6.
While not quite as important as putting a man on the moon, UNH-IOL project manager Timothy Carlin said the evolution from the current IPv4 to IPv6 is a crucial step to protect the Internet from reaching its user capacity — a fact of technological life that most technology consumers aren't aware of.
"A lot of people just connect to the Internet through their Internet Service Provider and forget about it until it's not working," Carlin said.
The reality is the IPv4 Internet will soon reach capacity due to the system's limited number of 4 billion Internet Protocol addresses and the explosion of Internet-connected users, devices and applications. Carlin said that as more of the world moves online, IPv6 is critical to the Internet's continued growth as a platform for innovation and economic prosperity. According to the Internet Society, the sponsor of the recent World IPv6 Launch, IPv6 will have up to "340 trillion, trillion, trillion" IP addresses that will help connect the billions of people across the world not connected today. IPv6 will not only allow the Internet to become bigger, but also faster.
"The number of devices (connecting to the Internet) is only going to increase," said Radim Bartos, head of the UNH Computer Science Department. Bartos said the growth of devices — such as utility smart meters and security systems — connecting to the Internet make the conversion to IPv6 a necessity.
Founded in 1988, UNH-IOL has long been considered one of the networking industry's premier third-party proving grounds for developing technologies. Carlin said its reputation has been built on UNH-IOL's scrupulous, advanced testing as well as confidential reporting to member companies.
UNH-IOL's role in IPv6 development is important as routers, servers, and all sorts of networking devices and systems need to be created and tested for IPv6 compatibility. And the lab has been involved since the planning and development of IPv6 began in 1996. Even before the Internet boom that began in the mid-1990s, Internet developers knew there was a finite capacity for the Internet. Carlin said UNH-IOL is "unique" not only nationally but internationally as an impartial third-party IPv6 tester for the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and major corporations such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Motorola, Netgear and Oracle.
Within the past year, Carlin said UNH-IOL has expanded its focus to ensure residential users stay connected as the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 occurs. In April, UNH-IOL qualified home gateway vendors (such as Netgear) for participation in the World IPv6 Launch.
What has been less heralded, said Bartos, has been UNH-IOL's role in providing invaluable, cutting edge IPv6 exposure and experience for students and researchers. "We have 100 percent placement rate," he said of his UNH graduates. Bartos said student engineers from UNH-IOL successfully collaborated with UNH's Computer Science Department to make the department's network and Web site IPv6-ready before the launch of World IPv6.
There is a high demand for both entry-level and senior-level executives with experience in IPv6 network deployments, and that demand is expected to grow quickly as IPv4 address space dwindles and the transition to IPv6 continues. Bartos said the value that UNH students receive from their hands-on experience working with the technology at UNH-IOL will only grow. "This is highly sought after. Many of our students with IPv6 experience are getting highly-paid positions," he said.
One-third of UNH computer science students work at the lab during their time at the university.
And some aren't traveling far after graduation. Currently, about 100 IOL employees are UNH graduates, including 68 with undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering, computer sciences, information technology and computer engineering. IPv6 is only one of as many as 25 network testing areas UNH-IOL conducts for its 200 corporate and government members.
As the IPv6 rollout continues from network to network and region to region globally — Carlin said the United States is lagging behind so far in implementation — the importance of UNH-IOL is expected to grow as more work turns toward the home-router market.
"The amazing breadth of interest and participation in World IPv6 Launch underscores just how important IPv6 has become, and IPv6-supporting home routing equipment is essential to realize companies' future plans for connecting customers and users," said Leslie Daigle, the Internet Society's chief Internet technology officer.