By Carl Weinschenk
The current Internet addressing scheme is expected to become obsolete in 2012. In the final post of his 3-part series for SHARE President’s Corner, veteran tech writer Carl Weinschenk explores why businesses must transition to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).
IPv6 and the Mainframe Community
The extent to which IPv6 directly impacts mainframe computing depends on the way in which the device – whether real or virtual – is configured, according to experts. But all configurations still put the mainframe at the heart of the matter. They will use the new addressing scheme internally to move ever greater amounts of data between elements. Mainframes also will communicate with network elements on the Internet either directly via IPv6 or through intermediate devices.
John Curran, the CEO of the American Registry of Internet Names (ARIN), said that people in the mainframe community need to be aware of the transition and that some may have to take steps to keep data flowing smoothly. The key is unfettered access. “The important thing to realize is the Internet change we are experiencing right now going from IPv4 to IPv6 will affect people from the mainframe community because at some point they will want to access the apps on those machines.”
The key question those technicians and engineers should ask is if the device is directly networked to the Internet or if it connects through a proxy server or other intermediary device. Today, Curran said, it is more likely that a proxy – a best practices security tool to insulate the mainframe from the outside network — is involved. That’s a good thing because the configuration enables a smoother transition to IPv6. Updating the proxy, he said, will allow it to act as the transition point between the IPv4 on the mainframe and the IPv6 or hybrid IPv4/IPv6 network outside.
In some cases – especially in networks with older topologies – the mainframe is directly linked to the Internet. “If they talk directly, that mainframe needs to talk IPv6,” Curran said. “There is no guarantee that that is going to be an easy thing to do.”
Probably the best way to put it is that mainframes are on the periphery of the IP network, and thus may or may not be directly impacted by the addressing scheme being used. Even if not directly touching the Internet, however, the mainframe will be impacted and people whose job it is to manage it must be up to speed on the transition.
However, mainframes are not immune from the decade-old trend of IP replacing other protocols used to move data over communications infrastructure. Thus, it makes sense to use the latest version of that networking protocol – IPv6 – deep in the core of these devices, said Laura Knapp, the Worldwide Business Consultant for Applied Expert Systems and SHARE’s Project Manager for Communications Technology. “Mainframes and the people who run them need to participate in IPv6 address planning because effectively it’s a cloud unto itself,” Knapp said. “The large number of IPv6 addresses allows the apps and services to move independently within the machine, especially in mainframes such as the zEnterprise that includes distributed servers.”
Today a growing amount of data needs to be trafficked within the mainframe, according to Kevin Manweiler, a Network Consulting Engineer at Cisco and SHARE’s Deputy Project Manager for Communications Infrastructure. Mainframes perform far more differentiated tasks than is commonly thought, according to Manweiler. “It’s not a store, it’s a mall,” he said. This makes the use of IPv6 – with its multitude of addresses and ability to logically sequence them to gain a greater level of efficiency – just what the computer doctor ordered.
Nowhere is the tie between IPv6 and mainframes better illustrated than in the zEnterprise, IBM’s latest mainframe. Jack Williams, Program Manager for the Communications Infrastructure Program for SHARE said that the z/OS main unit is tightly networked via a 10 Gbit/s internal Ethernet LAN to a series of ancillary processors in the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX). z/OS and zBX only use IPv6 to communicate, he added.
The good news is that SHARE is all over IPv6 and what the transition means for the mainframe community. Indeed, SHARE in Atlanta, March 11 to 16 at the Omni Hotel in the CNN Center in Atlanta, featured 12 sessions over two days devoted to the subject.
The sessions – from “IPv6 Addressing” to “IPv6 Planning,” “IPv6 Tunneling Technologies” and “IPv6 Implementation” – were intended to provide a soup-to-nuts view of the subject. “We gave them the basics, planning and installation through troubleshooting, design implementation and a hands-on lab where they did a transition from IPv4 to IPv6 themselves,” Knapp said.
The bottom line is that the Internet is changing –dramatically. One possible outcome is that IPv6 transition will happen smoothly and IT departments will have a new and more complex protocol to work with. The other potential reality is a more troubled and drawn-out changeover. If that happens, IT folks will have to worry about the new protocol – and a long list of legacy issues. Whatever the future holds, however, the mainframe community will be directly and indirectly impacted. Thus, it is wise to understand the issues as the end of IPv4 comes closer.