On Monday, Foundry plans to announce a hardware upgrade to switches supporting Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) to make sure they don't suffer from performance issues. The company is introducing the new capability in switching modules for its two newest high-end switches, the BigIron MG8 and NetIron 40G.
IPv6 expands the pool of unique addresses available for connecting PCs and other devices on the Internet. It is widely regarded as a necessary successor to the current system for Internet addressing, IPv4. While IPv6 offers 120 bits of addressing space, IPv4 only supports 32 bits.
As a result, experts predict that if IPv4 continues to be used, the world will face a shortage of IP addresses because of the millions of devices that will likely be added to the Internet in the next several years. The problem could be most acute in Asia, where broadband and mobile Web devices like phones are rapidly expanding.
Today most Ethernet switching vendors, including Cisco Systems, Foundry and Extreme Networks, have retrofitted older gear with IPv6 support in their software. But because the hardware hasn't been changed to accommodate the expanded addressing space, the switches can't forward as many IPv6 packets as quickly as they can forward IPv4 packets.
To help solve this problem, these vendors have introduced new "hardware assist" blades that fit into their products that help offload IPv6 traffic to boost performance. But even with the hardware assist, there is still about a 50 percent reduction in performance.
Now these vendors are starting to embed IPv6 directly into the hardware chipsets, which are used to forward packets. Cisco and Extreme say that their high-end switches already support IPv6 in hardware.
Most experts agree that IPv6 is a long way from commercial use in the United States.
"I'm not aware of any IPv6 deployments that are so extensive that they need the performance of an IPv6 hardware-based solution," said Varun Nagaraj, vice president of product management for Extreme.
Still, carriers in Asia are starting to make the switch to IPv6. What's more, in June 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense set a deadline for all agencies to be IPv6-ready by 2008. A test network called Moonv6 has been established to test interoperability of IPv6 equipment. In March 2003, the second phase of the Moonv6 project was completed. The network, which spans the United States, is still up and running to allow for ongoing testing.
"Foundry makes a lot of its money from the government and overseas," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group. "For those reasons, they would want to make certain to offer a high-performance IPv6 product."