World IPv6 Day Signals Time to Modernize the Internet

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-06-04

World IPv6 Day Signals Time to Modernize the Internet

The Internet Society, an international nonprofit organization that advises on Web standards, policy and education, has declared June 8 World IPv6 Day to give enterprises and ISPs a chance to "stress test" the next-generation Internet protocol to see what works, what breaks and what they need to do to seamlessly migrate their networks to IPv6. It's also a wake-up call that it's time to upgrade the World Wide Web.

On that day, more than 200 Web companies-including giants Facebook, Google and Yahoo-will work with ISPs and content-delivery networks to conduct the first global-scale trial of IPv6. For a 24-hour period, participating companies around the world will enable IPv6 on their main services.

The need for an IPv6 day has been looming for years. Ever since the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority doled out the last remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses to the individual regional Internet registries in February-signaling the depletion of available IP addresses-there has been a lot of discussion about adopting the next-generation networking protocol, IPv6. While some major enterprises have already begun the transition, there's still confusion about what they have to do.

Lest anyone think the IPv4-based Internet is about to come to a screeching halt, there's still some time left, James Lyne, director of technology strategy at Sophos, told eWEEK. Organizations are actually pretty "IPv6-ready" because most modern networking equipment can support the IPv6 namespace.

Operating systems-including Apple Mac OS X, most versions of Microsoft Windows and most major Linux distributions-have supported IPv6 addresses for a number of years. In fact, since IPv6 addresses are enabled by default in the operating system, if the network has the capability to assign an IPv6 address, the user machine most likely already
has an IPv6 address, Lyne said. He added that being on IPv6 accidentally is not that unusual, if the organization has an IPv6 network running or if the Internet service provider has turned on IPv6.

At some point, the entire Internet infrastructure has to move to using the newer address space, since the differences in the protocols mean that computers with IPv4 addresses cannot communicate with machines with IPv6 addresses.

Two things will drive the push for IPv6 addresses: the continued explosion of mobile devices and more users coming online from emerging markets. With no more IPv4 addresses left, new mobile devices will all be receiving IPv6 addresses.

Businesses need to ensure that their Websites, customer portals and online services are accessible to their users with IPv6 addresses or new customers will not be able to find them online.

Companies need to make sure their external properties can "talk" IPv6, according to Lyne. E-commerce sites probably face the biggest pressure to make the transition, he said.

For many organizations, the biggest challenge is not getting the Website or the server ready, but ensuring the ISP has turned on IPv6 and can handle IPv6 traffic, Steve Garrison, vice president of corporate market at Infoblox, told eWEEK. Despite news from Verizon, Time Warner, Comcast and Hurricane Electric, "not all ISPs are ready for IPv6," he said.

Testing the Infrastructure


World IPv6 Day will test the global infrastructure to see what kind of problems may come up so they can be corrected, said Sophos' Lyne. The average Internet user should not notice any issues, since most ISPs will be deploying a dual-stack configuration, where users will have addresses from both namespaces so they can access sites on both sides of the networking divide.

Organizations will use World IPv6 Day to learn what they are ready for, Qing Li, chief scientist and senior technologist at Blue Coat Networks, told eWEEK. Just by preparing for the "mass test," some problems have already been highlighted, he said.

Li said that a Japanese ISP said "there will be a segment of IPv6 infrastructure that will be unavailable on IPv6 day." The issue is specific to that ISP in the way the infrastructure was deployed and the addresses allocated, but it's likely the problem would not have been uncovered if there hadn't been all the preparation for World IPv6 Day, he noted.

Sophos' Lyne also speculated that this kind of a joint test may uncover issues in the IPv6 protocol itself. For example, IPv6 originally had a capability that would allow network routers to specify how traffic should be routed. Essentially, organizations could say that traffic going to the data center in California should first go to this server in Virginia and then to that server in Chicago.

"On paper, it sounded like a good idea," Lyne said. However, a few years ago, a French security firm testing out the capability realized that it could potentially be used by attackers to hijack and reroute user traffic through malicious servers. As a consequence, that capability is no longer supported in the modern IPv6 implementation.

Having more eyes on IPv6 will help uncover other problems, Lyne reported. In addition, it will highlight whether organizations are deploying the latest IPv6 implementation, or if anyone is still using the older versions with obsolete capabilities.

Carrier Problems

Another potential problem involves carriers. Like people, some carriers "don't like each other," Cricket Liu, vice president of architecture at Infoblox and resident IPv6 expert, told eWEEK.

Even though two ISPs may support IPv6, they may not recognize each other. As a result, they won't "peer" their IPv6 traffic, leaving organizations in isolated "pools" of IPv6. 

"I imagine there's going to be a fair number of people who thought they'd bought global IPv6 connectivity, but it's going to turn out that they are restricted to their carrier's IPv6 network," Liu said.

The goal of World IPv6 Day is to encourage ISPs, hardware manufacturers, software vendors and other Web companies to prepare for the transition and give them confidence that this migration isn't scary, after all, Blue Coat's Li said. Maybe after June 8, organizations will keep IPv6 turned on and encourage more users to try it.

Blue Coat will be working with other organizations to share data collected on June 8, Li said. The type of data collected will include the sites that were IPv6 ready, the kind of volume those servers handled and how long they were running.



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