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RMU Students Learn to Use Internet Protocol version 6

Friday, March 30, 2012

Pittsburgh -- The Internet is running out of addresses – and Robert Morris University is doing something about it.

Students in Valerie Powell’s Networks, Data, and Computer Communications course are learning to manage computer networks using Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), the next-generation system for assigning so-called IP addresses to computers and other devices that access the Internet. Upgrading telephone and social media networks increasingly will require the new IPv6 addresses.

“We’re educating our students for the future, not the past,” says Powell, university professor of computer and information systems.

Only a relative handful of the world’s top social media, e-commerce, and information technology companies are preparing to operate in an IPv6 world, said Randy Johnson, senior director of technical services at RMU. Johnson has built “virtual networks” for Powell’s students to develop real-world skills managing computer networks. As a working IT professional, Johnson offers advice to Powell and other RMU professors as to what students should learn to prepare for the workplace.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve,” says Johnson.

Every device that accesses the Internet must have an IP address in order to identify its origin and destination online. This system is coordinated globally by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and network administers currently rely on Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) – to direct online traffic. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses that consist entirely of numerals, which allows for a limited number of combinations to create unique IP addresses.

Although they are not all currently in use, every possible IP address created with IPv4 has been assigned to a network or allocated to a regional Internet registry, which are organizations that manage the allocation and registration of Internet number resources within a particular region of the world. That means the system will soon be obsolete, particularly with the proliferation of mobile devices in the Pacific Rim. IPv6 is a 128-bit hexadecimal system, meaning that it uses both numerals and letters, allowing for many more combinations of IP addresses as the number of devices accessing the Internet grows.

“This class is the perfect example of engaged learning at RMU,” said junior Mike Boylan, who is working on a class project involved IPv6 along with James Jermany, also a junior.

A few organizations and government agencies have started to make their web sites and networks accessible to devices with IPv6 addresses. During last year’s World IPv6 Day, Facebook, Amazon, and a few other high-profile Internet companies made their sites IPv6-accessible for the day. Johnson hopes to do the same for RMU’s web site during the next World IPv6 Day, June 6. Some of the organizations that participated last year plan to remain permanently accessible to devices with IPv6 addresses, which cannot access web sites configured solely for IPv4.

Boylan says that the system is not being adopted quickly enough, which means that IT workers trained in IPv6 will soon be in high demand.

“Coming out of college before IPv6 is implemented, employers will be looking for people who know what it is and how to use it, and will be looking to switch their own networks to it,” says Jermany. “I’m so glad I took this class.”

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.