Expert to IT pros: Adopt IPv6 soon or be sorry later

A dozen of the world's largest Internet companies -- including Facebook, Google and Comcast -- have committed to June 6, 2012, as the start date for their production deployments of IPv6, an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol.

MORE: Leading ISPs, websites commit to June 6 start for IPv6 | Free download: Who's who in IPv6: the companies and people leading the way

The Tuesday announcement of their plans was coordinated by the Internet Society, which is organizing the World IPv6 Launch event and encouraging other ISPs and Web content providers to participate in it.

We spoke with Leslie Daigle, the Internet Society's chief information technology officer, about the significance of the World IPv6 Launch event and what enterprise IT professionals should be doing about it. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Why is World IPv6 Launch a significant event?

It's a really significant marker in 2012 to lay down that there are real commercial IPv6 services on the content front and on the access front and in terms of the important pieces that are needed for IPv6 including content delivery networks (CDNs) and the customer premises equipment (CPE) vendors. This is not just another trial. It's not a test flight. It's turning it on for real.

But the June 6 date is more of a start date than a deadline for IPv6 deployment, isn't it?

It's a target so that by that point the participants have agreed to start their production deployments. This comes back to last year, when we had a test flight to make sure that the world could actually deal with having dual-stack IPv6 and IPv4 services for content providers. This year, it's really time to stop talking and start doing.

The goal for ISPs in this event -- to have 1% of their residential customers connected via IPv6 by June 6, 2012 -- seems minor given that 99% of their customers will still be on IPv4. Why is the bar set so low for ISPs?

If you talk to a service provider, they won't feel that it's a low bar. It's actually somewhat of a stretch goal. To get to 1%, there are a lot of actions in play in terms of making sure the network is ready and customers are set up. The 1% is a number set to drive real traffic. Content providers want to know that users will be able to reach them over IPv6.

Some major U.S. ISPs like Verizon are conspicuously absent from the list of ISPs participating in this event. Does that mean they are behind in IPv6 deployment?

No, I wouldn't read it that way at all. Really, the way to read the list of participants is that it is a group of ISPs and content providers that were willing to step up and make the statement today. We're very much looking forward to additional service providers and content providers joining up in coming weeks.

On the Web content side, some of the participating sites like Google are already supporting IPv6 at secondary sites but not on their main Web addresses. How significant of an effort will it be for them to turn IPv6 on for this event?

In any content provider company, the goal is to serve content reliably and effectively to as many users as possible. When they bring any update to their front door, they are committed to support it commercially, 24/7, for all of their customers. They don't want to play with experimental lab projects. So turning it on at the front door is signaling that IPv6 as a commercial service is ready to go forward.

What's been going on behind the scenes at websites like Google and Yahoo over the last six months since they participated in ISOC's World IPv6 Day to prepare them for World IPv6 Launch?

I think a lot of what needed to happen for them to turn on IPv6 on their main websites happened on June 8 last year. It was clear then that it was feasible to run IPv6 in a commercial way. A lot of the activity since then has been focused on making sure it was introduced into the regular operational streams for all parts of their front doors. Although there were a lot of sites that came on last June and stayed on last June.

Why is it important for the Internet engineering community to have home gateway vendors like Cisco and D-Link participate in this event?

It's a critical piece in making sure that if an ISP provides IPv6 access, that their users can use it. There has been a lot of inherent IPv6 capability in the global Internet that hasn't been tapped into because of missing links between ISPs and home users. The CPE piece is absolutely critical.

What will ISOC be doing between now and June 6 to attract other participants to this event?

We are going to make sure that as many different service providers, content providers and CPE vendors are aware of it and can signal their interest in participating in it. ISOC has five regional bureaus around the globe, so we will be reaching out to more regional providers. We're working with our 100-plus chapters and individual members to foster various events around the globe related to IPv6.

What should enterprise network operators be taking away from the announcement of this event in terms of their own IPv6 deployments?

I'm hoping that they'll take away the fact that IPv6 is really ready for commercial use. There are services available to them, whether ISPs or CDNs or any other form of support for their activities. Also, hopefully this will help them step up their own priorities with regard to IPv6 deployment. The future of the Internet is IPv6. I'm hoping this June 6 date is a bookmark so that other organizations will start moving in this direction and start putting stakes in the ground. The message is that IPv6 is real, and it's time to move along.

What is your outlook for IPv6 deployment in 2012?

It's very positive. The fact that we can lay out an activity like World IPv6 Launch that has this high of a bar for service providers and content providers and actually have a number of industry players across the globe able to step up and meet it, is an indicator of a lot of extremely hard work that is being put into IPv6 deployment. We're shining a spotlight on hard work that's already been done. I'm hoping that a year from now we're talking about moving on from IPv4 rather than whether IPv6 is going to take off.

What is the risk for an enterprise network operator that does nothing with IPv6 this year?

It really depends on the extent to which they are focused on growth and being accessed cleanly and robustly from all parts of the world. Increasingly, networks from Asia are IPv6 because Asia is all but out of IPv4 addresses. A network operator that does nothing with IPv6 is ensuring those users from Asia will be accessing their website through some translation services. If an IT organization does nothing with IPv6 in 2012, they may have a very busy 2013 as the ramifications and implications of network address translation between IPv4 and IPv6 comes home to roost for them. One of the big takeaways for them is that IPv4 transition doesn't need to be expensive if you do it in a plan-ful way. If you start now and end by 2013, you could do it as part of your natural tech refresh.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

This story, "Expert to IT pros: Adopt IPv6 soon or be sorry later" was originally published by Network World.

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