What's driving this university to IPv6? Going green

IPv6 is a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4

Ave Maria University, a liberal arts college near Naples, Fla., is looking to adopt IPv6 across its two data centers and all of its facilities management systems, which are used for monitoring building access, temperature control and power management. The goal: improved energy conservation across its campus.

IPv6 is a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4. IPv6 includes vastly more address space, built-in security and enhanced support for video streaming and peer-to-peer applications. U.S. carriers are starting to migrate to IPv6 because the pool of available IPv4 addresses is expected to run out in 2011.

"We're working on a plan to take advantage of IPv6," says Bryan Mehaffey, vice president for technology, systems and engineering at Ave Maria University, which has around 1,200 employees and students.

The university is conducting an audit of all of its systems and software to determine what effect running IPv6 will have on them. "We're about 75% to 80% through with our IPv6 audit," Mehaffey says.

One advantage for Mehaffey in terms of IPv6 adoption is that his entire network is less than two years old. All of the university's data centers and telephones as well as its building access, security and facilities management systems are connected via IPv4.

"We have an almost entirely IP-based facilities management solution," Mehaffey says. "Our building automation system is IP-based. Our security system is IP-based. We have IP enabled for our fire alarm system. Our security camera systems are also IP-based."

Mehaffey says his staff of eight IT people can monitor and manage 800,000 points on the network.

"Every air handler, thermostat, C02 sensor, circuit breaker, float meter and smoke detector is on the network," Mehaffey says. "It all runs on my Cisco network. We have all Cisco routers and Cisco PIX firewalls."

At this point, Mehaffey isn't running IPv6 on the university's Cisco network. But he's putting together a plan to migrate to IPv6.

"All of the systems we bought from Cisco are enabled to handle IPv6," he says. "The problem is the other side. It's the interfaces with the industrial systems."

As an example, Mehaffey points to fire alarm systems, which are enabled for IPv4 but not IPv6.

"For some of these equipment companies, IPv6 isn't even on their radar," he says. "They're still trying to get from asynchronous to IP-based circuits."

Another concern for Ave Maria University is whether its network will take a major performance hit when it starts running IPv4 and IPv6 in dual stack mode. The university has an optical transport network including an OC-192 SONET ring

"The biggest concern for us is the overhead that IPv6 brings. The way I see it, IPv6 and IPv4 are going to have to co-exist for a period of time. That may be six, eight, ten or even 15 years, depending on how things develop."

For now, Ave Maria University is blocking IPv6 traffic using its Cisco firewalls and its Barracuda Intrusion Prevention System. But the university is looking towards a future of IPv6-based facilities management.

"I'd like to see [IPv6] applied to building systems," Mehaffey says. "Energy conservation revolves around industrial systems like pumps, controls, readouts and sensors. Those types of gauges where information is. It's critical that we don't slow down the development of IPv6...for the transport of building system protocols."

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