We’re Not There Yet, But Soon It Will Be an Imperative, Not a Choice
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY Magazine.
The communications industry has been talking for a decade about the threat of IPv4 address exhaust and the need to move to IPv6. Yet while many service providers today support IPv6, the vast majority of their customers have not made the transition. Why? As it turns out, IPv6 is suffering from something of a chicken-and-egg problem.
Dr. Shankar Narayanaswamy, vice president of network architecture at Reliance Globalcom, which in late February announced the launch of IPv6 as a feature enhancement to its IP Transit product portfolio, says most organizations don’t yet see the urgency of moving to this new IP addressing scheme. That’s because some in the industry have created workarounds like classless interdomain routing to get around IPv4 exhaust. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s because content companies for the most part haven’t moved to IPv6, he says.
“I think that’s the biggest hurdle,” says Narayanaswamy, referring to the fact that most content companies – like online blogs, magazines, and other purveyors of information – have not yet gone IPv6.
Once these workarounds are no longer practical, and once content providers are no longer able to reach the customers they want to address, the case for IPv6 will become clear, says Narayanaswamy of Reliance Globalcom, which sells services to carriers as well as direct to enterprises.
As you probably already know, as new endpoints like smartphones and tablets proliferate, there’s a growing need for IP addresses. In fact, many experts forecast that the pool of IPv4 addresses will empty out later this year. Narayanaswamy explains that means that while content companies will be able to reach existing endpoints with their offerings, when newer devices that rely on the IPv6 addressing scheme try to tap into their sites, they’ll come up dry. And when that starts to happen, or the threat of that reality draws nearer, content companies are likely to get moving on IPv6, he indicates.
Despite the apparent lack of demand for IPv6, many service providers have gone ahead and taken the IPv6 plunge.
In addition to Reliance Globalcom, in November Cox Communications announced it is prepared to support IPv6. The company is conducting active trials with Cox Business customers and plans to extend the trials to its residential product line.
"By migrating to IPv6, Cox (News - Alert) is future-proofing its network, systems and products," says Jason Weil, principal architect at Cox Communications. "As a digital voice, video, Internet and commercial service provider, we are committed to a seamless transition, so our customers experience the same service in the future that they enjoy today. Cox's dual-stack IPv6 deployment allows customers the ability to continue leveraging their current IPv4 capability while incrementally adding the IPv6 support required for the next generation of network devices and applications."
Also in November, CableLabs revealed that it had successfully completed a PacketCable 2.0 SIP call over IPv6 during a two-week IPv6 interoperability event Oct. 11-22. This was the fourth in a series of semi-annual IPv6 interoperability events.
Representatives from 17 companies worked together to test IPv6 interoperability in a range of products including DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems, DOCSIS 2.0+IPv6 cable modems, cable modem termination systems, PacketCable E-DVAs, e-set-top boxes, provisioning servers, home gateways, large-scale NAT servers, and test tools. Participants also tested DOCSIS IPv6 provisioning, Internet video streaming, eRouter and standalone home router configuration, and interoperability with PCs running Windows XP, Windows 7, Mac OS X, and Linux. In addition, CableLabs demonstrated NAT444 and Dual-Stack Lite, two important IPv4/IPv6 coexistence technologies.
Companies that participated included A10, Arris, Broadcom, Cisco, Comcast, Cox, D-Link (News - Alert), Incognito, Motorola, SCTE, Shenick, Spirent, STMicroelectronics, Technicolor, Texas Instruments, Ubee, and the University of New Hampshire Interop Lab."Suppliers have demonstrated significant progress in their support for IPv6,” says Chris Donley, project director of network protocols at CableLabs. “This is a very important technology for cable operators, and it is encouraging to see such a strong commitment from the industry's supply community."
However, according to Narayanaswamy, the barrier to support IPv6 is not all that high for service providers. He says it’s typically simply a matter of the ISP selecting the IPv6 configuration option on their existing gear.
While many service providers have embraced IPv6, some major enterprises and government agencies have only “dabbled” in IPv6, Narayanaswamy says, with governmental entities and global enterprise customers the most in tune with the pending IPv4 exhaust. He adds that he’s unaware of any customer that has made a wholesale move to IPv6.
According to INTERNET TELEPHONY’s sources, government agencies are somewhat ahead of the curve in adopting IPv6 given the federal government’s directive that all U.S. government agencies must upgrade their IT infrastructures to support the new addressing scheme.
The deadline of the mandate has shifted over time, but around June of last year the government indicated it would no longer push back this requirement, says Dennis Voas, manager for security solutions at Enterasys Networks, a Siemens Enterprise Communications Company. (The company provides wired and wireless network infrastructure and security solutions. In December Enterasys Networks announced the latest release of the Enterasys Intrusion Prevention Solution, which features patented distributed intrusion prevention technology that simultaneously addresses the widest variety of network and host-based threats, now extends its network protection to enterprises deploying the IPv6 standard.)
Michele Araujo, director of product management at Enterasys, adds that at first the mandate was for IPv6 compatible solutions, meaning that traffic had to be able to run over an IPv6 with no inspection, but that it evolved to require networks be IPv6 addressable, meaning inspection must be included.
Araujo and Voas agree with Narayanaswamy of Reliance Globalcom that outside the federal government and service providers, there seems to be very little sense of urgency around IPv6. But while Narayanaswamy says that the move to IPv6 is no great shakes, at least not for the service providers, the Enterasys employees indicate that the change is a pretty big deal from a software point of view. Voas says that because the size of the addresses and headers on packets change with the move to IPv6, database cells may not be big enough to support new longer addresses. For example, if an organization uses a particular database to generate reports off of a security device, those reports have fields in them designed for IPv4.
“The push from the government is that they recognize converting to v6 is not going to be a small effort, and they want to get well ahead of the curve, they don’t want to get caught at the end,” says Voas. “It takes time.”
Cisco (News - Alert) Systems, which has been a key company in the effort to move this new addressing scheme forward, says that the U.S., Brazil, France, Germany and Japan are among the countries “aggressively transitioning to IPv6.”
"Government agencies, institutions and commercial companies around the world are committed to the operational deployment and use of IPv6,” says Brad Boston (News - Alert), senior vice president of the global government solutions group at Cisco.
The company, which says it has pioneered IPv6 technology since its inception in 1996 and announced in November that it leads in total USGv6 certification for routers, switches and firewalls, is introducing new features in its ASR 1000 Series routers, use cases, and professional services to help customers transition to IPv6. Additionally, Cisco notes it is the first technology vendor to be certified by the IPv6 Forum to offer IPv6 education and certification for information technology professionals. And it has developed IPv6 professional services to help customers successfully transition to IPv6 with a portfolio designed to meet customer needs throughout the network lifecycle, from planning and design to deployment and optimization.
“Our leadership, attested by industry and government certifications, underscores an architectural commitment to IPv6 across the board – from our devices to our applications and professional services,” says Boston. “Our unique knowledge and experience will help our customers move up to the next generation of networking applications and operating systems in order to dramatically enhance communication, collaboration and mobility."
Adds Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, vice president and general manager at Learning@Cisco:
"The need for networking talent capable of designing, managing and implementing IPv6 will grow in importance as the availability of IPv4 network addresses is depleted."
More About IPv6
It offers an address space of 128 bits as compared to 32 bits in IPv4.
It will provide virtually unlimited IP addresses for the future, expanding the number of possible addresses from approximately 4 billion with IPv4 to roughly 340 trillion.
It also enables, improved network configuration, security, scalability, mobility, enhanced administration and manageability for global organizations.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi