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July 16, 2012

Still ample time to study IPv6

UnderstandingIPv6A new guidebook to learn the latest-generation Internet protocol will be a useful tool for 3000 pros, at least any who are expanding their networking skills. And while it's true the HP 3000 won't ever support IPv6, this style of trailing the current net technology has been part of the 3000's experience for decades.

In 1984, for example, IBM's System Network Architecture (SNA) ruled a vast swath of a very diverse computing landscape. Almost three decades ago, 75 percent of corporate-level data processing was performed on an IBM or "plug-compatible" system. And about half of those systems were supporting SNA devices. So there you had it: a networking protocol used by more than a third of the world's corporate computers, and completely unsupported by Hewlett-Packard's business computers.

In a story in the venerable InterACT magazine, Sharon Fisher wrote this dominant and rising technology wasn't for sale, just adoption.

The most important fact to remember about SNA is that is is not a tangible product, but an abstract concept. You cannot buy SNA; it is neither hardware nor software. Instead, it is definitions, rules, protocols and formats that govern the structure of hardware and software.

So HP embraced SNA for the 3000, its only business computer, but late. As usual. Adopting standards early might look good in a tech planning presentation, but in practice can be as useful as messaging between a fridge and a TV. We heard as much from a veteran of standards-based networking in the 3000 community.

Chris Bartram manages networks for a DC-area company today, practicing so far forward he's a field expert on HP Site Scope, an enterprise monitoring tool that lets you do a variety of agentless monitoring tasks such as web page checks, database queries, and TCP port checks. But he made his name delivering 3000-ready networked products through the 1990s and onward. Netmail/3000 was his best-known product, email for the 3000 at a time when proprietary HP Deskmanager mail systems dominated the MPE landscape. Netmail was built upon standards like MIME, technology far more complex than a corporate-controlled standard such as SNA.

Bartram, who since 1995 has managed a server in Virginia that's hosted 3000 NewsWire web pages, checked in with us about IPv6. Like 3000 net guru Jeff Kell before him, Bartram doesn't see support of IPv6 as much of a practical payoff for most companies. "I’m fairly up on IPv6 in general," he said, "though I don’t plan to implement it anytime soon. There’s just no real incentive yet." 

Some of the big guys have finally started pushing it into the real world, but since I’m operational and accessible on IPv4 – and many of the tools and some of the OS network stacks really haven’t seen that much public exposure yet -- so I’m not ready to take on that extra overhead. Perhaps if I was just launching an Internet presence and my ISP was only granting IPv6 addresses (as Cox or someone like that is doing) then it might force my hand. But for the moment the hackers probably have a better handle on all things (and vulnerabilities) IPv6 than I have time to keep up with, so I’ll hold out a while longer. IPv6 gets blocked completely at my firewall.

Since we’re never going to see a working IPv6 stack on any of the 3000s, we’re going to be trapped forever in the “compatibility zone” anyway. But that’s okay – I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need for my 3000s to be able to chat with my refrigerator or microwave or light bulbs.

Bartram refers to the IPv6 promise of enough IP addresses that anything smart enough to network can be given its own address. It could be a good while longer before IPv6 takes a practical role in IT management anywhere but at Internet service providers. But it's probably not a bad thing to study if you're seeking fresh employment, though. O'Reilly has a fresh book on the subject that includes references as current as Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.

It's entirely possible that only Linux will be fully engineered to understand and adopt IPv6 by the time the next-gen addressing standard becomes practical technology. But it's become a different computing world that it was in the '80s and '90s, when HP routinely played catch-up to the more dominant vendors' standards. That was the typical HP tech strategy, even in those fastest-growth days of the 3000. However, it was an era when being first could be on par with being the best implementer. "HP wasn't always in the forefront," consultant Olav Kappert said while he reviewed his 3000 history with us last week. "But when it came out and it was done by HP, it was done right."

09:13 AM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink

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