Why IPv6 Is Like Broccoli


The Internet is at crossroads. The current IPv4 address space is nearing exhaustion, while the next-generation IPv6 addressing system dramatically expands the available address space. Yet, to date, it hasn’t been widely deployed.

And despite the impending IPv4 exhaustion, the Internet Society (ISOC) has published a study in which it reported that there are no concrete business drivers for IPv6.

With all the technology has to offer, is there actually no business case for IPv6?

The ISOC, a nonprofit corporation working to promote the open development of the Internet and overseeing infrastructure standards groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), is aiming to tackle that question at an IETF meeting this week.

The U.S. government is moving forward on IPv6 use, but commercial enterprises — at least in the U.S. — have been dragging their feet. That’s frustrating, supporters say, because the adoption of IPv6 could have profound implications for the Internet as a whole, allowing for a vast new crop of Internet-connected devices and technologies.

“IPv6 is not the question — it’s the answer,” Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer for the ISOC, said during an IETF panel discussion on IPv6. “The question is do we want to continue to have an Internet that continues to be expanded by innovations from everywhere? In which case, we need to deploy IPv6 to continue to have global addressing.”

“It’s something of a broccoli technology, in that regard: It’s better for you if you eat it but it’s not necessarily appealing in its own right.”

Daigle noted that the Internet development community has known for at least a decade that IPv4 does not provide enough address space to allow each machine to have its own address. IPv4 has a 32-bit address size, allowing for only 4.3 billion addresses.

On the other hand, the 128-bit address space of IPv6 allows for a staggering 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 possible addresses.

Though there’s a need, Daigle commented that deployment of IPv6 is no trivial task: It’s nothing less than the transformation of the Internet.

And it may need to happen quickly.

Richard Jimmerson, CIO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) — the organization that assigns IP address space in North and South America — told the panel that he expects the free pool of IPv4 address space to run out within the next two years.

But just because there will be no more available IPv4 address space for carriers doesn’t mean that IPv4 itself will stop working in two years.

“After IPv4 runs out, it’s not the same as running out of oil, where there would be no cars running the next morning,” said Alain Durand, director of IPv6 architecture and Internet governance in Comcast’s Office of the CTO. “Everything that has been deployed will still work, so don’t panic.”

Page 2: Problems with migration

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Problems with migration

While the IETF has known about the exhaustion of IPv4 address space, the move to IPv6 remains slow. Durand noted that many consumers are running home modems and routers that aren’t IPv6 capable. Additionally, many IP-enabled consumer devices, ranging from cameras to TVs, are currently IPv4-only.

Also, in networks across the world, there are tens of millions of Web servers and content services online that today only support IPv4. Durand expects that those servers will eventually migrate, but it will take time.

Yet there’s also a growing body of evidence that suggests that businesses can benefit from the IPv6.

Take Google, for instance. In May 2008, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) began switching on its IPv6 services. Google Engineer Lorenzo Colitti noted that the effort started off in 2007 as a “20 percent project” — so named for the fact that Google lets its employees spend 20 percent of their time on projects of their own choosing.

Colitti noted that just last week, Google enabled Google Maps on IPv6 — and immediately saw a three-fold increase in the amount of IPv6 traffic it normally receives.

“A lot of people don’t see a business case for IPv6, but we do see one,” Colitti said. “There are a lot of new devices out there that have IP connectivity, and there is not enough space to number them with IPv4 addresses.”

The current method used to expand IPv4 address space is NAT network address translation, which takes one public address and then serves up private addresses behind a firewall.

Colitti argued that doing NAT on a large scale is more difficult to do than IPv6. One issue is: legal intercept. That is, with NAT there is one public IP address that is shared, which makes it harder for law enforcement to identify potential offenders.

He added that NAT is harder to maintain and support. In contrast, deploying IPv6 is simpler, as it provides public addresses to all without the need for NAT layering.

Economic incentive?

While there may be engineering benefits to IPv6, not everyone is convinced that there are financial incentives for a move.

[cob:Special_Report]While Comcast’s (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Durand noted that he is seeing IPv6 technology pop up as part of regular cycles of technology deployment and refreshes, he argued that most people will only initially benefit from IPv6 thanks to the increased address space.

Meanwhile, others added that the lack of a concerted effort around IPv6 isn’t necessarily at odds with how the Internet itself developed — and how it will continue in the future.

“There is no master plan for deployment of technology in the Internet, and that’s a feature,” ISOC’s Daigle said. “The Internet is a continuously evolving environment and if you’re in this business you need to continuously evolve.”

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