Network engineers completed their first-ever test of common enterprise applications over the world's largest IPv6 network this summer -- and the results were mixed.

Experts were able to get basic office functions -- file sharing, printing and web design, for example -- working with IPv6, but it wasn't easy. As for email, well, that hasn't even been tested yet.

The 13 companies involved in the testing, including Microsoft, HP and Adobe, discovered that making the transition to IPv6 will require a significant amount of training and time for IT staff.

"We found that setting up office applications, especially if you had zero IPv6 knowledge, you would have a hard time learning how to set up these servers," says Erica Johnson, senior manager of software applications at the University of New Hampshire's InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL), which oversaw the IPv6 tests.

"There's going to be a knowledge gap for network administrators and IPv6 developers," Johnson says. "They are going to have a hard time setting up simple servers for IPv6 networks. I definitely see an HR challenge for setting up these office networks."

Testers also discovered major gaps in the availability of IPv6-ready applications, particularly email.

"What really needs to be tested still is email," Johnson says. "Everyone needs email, and we have not seen anything tested on [the multivendor Moonv6 test bed] yet. That doesn't mean there aren't email implementations for IPv6, but that means they aren't being outwardly tested yet. This is a major gap for offices to be able to complete transition to IPv6."

UNH-IOL officials also haven't seen any proprietary applications run over Moonv6 yet.

"CRM, billing, inventory, databases -- all of these applications are going to have to be verified that they will work over the New Internet," Johnson says. "We also tried to get an IP Multimedia Subsystem architecture to test voice, video and data over IPv6, but we are not seeing that yet. That's another gap for IPv6 in moving forward."

IPv6 is a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's primary communications protocol, known as IPv4. IPv6 has a virtually limitless number of IP addresses, as well as built-in security. IPv4, on the other hand, supports about 4.3 billion addresses, which soon will be exhausted. When all the IPv4 addresses are handed out, ISPs and enterprises will need to support IPv6 on their networks.

The recent round of IPv6 tests was conducted across the Moonv6 backbone, which is the largest permanently deployed multivendor IPv6 network in the world. Managed by UNH-IOL, Moonv6 runs from New Hampshire to California, with links to Europe and Asia.

The latest round of Moonv6 tests was conducted on June 18-22. The goal was to see how well common office applications, including Microsoft Vista, Microsoft Longhorn and Adobe Dreamweaver, would perform with IPv6.

"We've done a lot of testing in the past regarding IPv6 routing protocols, infrastructure and the plumbing itself; but we didn't know if it was going to work back home in the office," Johnson says. "We wanted to know if we were going to be able to create files, share files and print files in IPv6. We also wanted to test Web development tools because every business needs to be able to create a Web site."

The network engineers tested the following capabilities in IPv4/IPv6 dual-stake and IPv6-only modes:

-- Network file sharing and transfer with Unix operating systems from Sun, HP, Berkeley Software Distribution and Linux
-- Printing with printers from HP, Xerox and Konica-Minolta, including printing PostScript over such security mechanisms as IPSec and Internet Key Exchange
-- Web design using Adobe Dreamweaver with Microsoft Vista and Longhorn servers and the Apple Mac operating system
-- Microsoft MeetingSpace collaboration tools
-- DNS and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCPv6) servers

"The common office applications were successful," Johnson says. "We transferred files. We used DNS and DHCPv6, as well as printing. We saw that some really important office applications are working today using IPv6."

Johnson admits, however, that it was difficult to get those applications to work, especially for the companies involved in the Moonv6 testing.

"Our UNH-IOL customers are having a hard time setting up these office applications in their labs," Johnson says. "It's quite difficult for them, finding what supports IPv6... That's going to be the system administrator's real challenge: finding out what works with what."

Companies that participated in the latest Moonv6 tests were: Adobe, Alcatel-Lucent, Command Information, Counterpath, HP, Hexago, Ixia, Juniper Networks, Konica Minolta, Microsoft and Xerox.

One feature of IPv6 that testers were excited about is Site Multihoming by IPv6 Intermediation, known as SHIM6. This protocol makes it easier for enterprises to use more than one carrier to increase the reliability of their Internet connections in a technique known as multihoming. SHIM6 provides a more efficient method of multihoming than what's available with IPv4.

"If something happens and a fibre gets cut, or there's a load-balancing issue and one provider's link is really slow, SHIM6 will dynamically do error checking and stereo checking on those links and switch over to the second provider and continue delivery of data," Johnson says. "This is really important for the financial industry."

UNH-IOL continues to test SHIM6 over a Moonv6 connection between the US and Ireland.

"There have to be changes to the host to support SHIM6, but nothing has to change with the routers," Johnson says. "We have seen no problems with the SHIM6 protocol, but there were implementation issues. We did deliver data to a particular site. We pulled the link and saw a connection, but the SHIM6 testing continues."

UNH-IOL officials hope next to test email implementations of IPv6 applications on Moonv6, but no date has been set for that.

"Email testing is our biggest target," Johnson says. "We'd also like to test instant messaging and videoconferencing tools. It would be great to stream video."